By Jessica Wiantfirstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL-Drink 50 beers at the Lucky Star Lounge on Main Street in Front Royal and you get a prize -- and no, you can't do it all in one night.
At this restaurant, it's more about taking your time and trying out new flavors than it is about slugging back Bud Light or Coors by the case.
In fact, the Lucky Star Lounge doesn't even carry Coors, Budweiser, Miller or Michelob among its staggering 76 different beer varieties, says Lorena Lipton, who co-owns the restaurant with husband Trevor Lipton.
"Because you can get that anywhere, and we're trying to do something different," she said.
When the Liptons founded the restaurant in 2008, they immediately knew that a wide beer selection would be part of its philosophy. Back then, they began with 18 beers, Lipton said, and they worked their way up to 50.
From there was born the idea of the 50 Beer Club.
The Lucky Star Lounge started handing out cards containing a list of 50 beers they carry. Order one, get a punch on the card. Get all 50 and you get a T-shirt and a Lucky Star Lounge glass.
For Lipton, it wasn't about being elitist but about letting his customers learn by doing -- educating as much as entertaining.
Even for his wife, a proud graduate of the 50 Beer Club herself, trying so many different varieties helped her develop a new taste for brews.
"Now I don't drink any of the beers I used to drink," she said.
A big part of it is dispelling the fear of "foreign" beer.
Actually most of the selection at the Lucky Star Lounge is domestic, she said, though it does come from places near and far. The lounge carries as many as five beers made in Virginia, along with beers from 20-some other states plus countries like England, Holland, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Mexico, Japan and more.
As of last week, the Lucky Star carried 76 beers. Approaching 80, Lipton already has his sights on an "Around the World in 80 Beers" club card.
Members of the 50 Beer Club all seem to come to appreciate the complexity that beer has to offer.
"It's like expanding their palate," Lipton said. "Beer should be appreciated like wine."
Customer Katie Elder and her husband brew their own beer as a hobby. She said there are many different varieties of ingredients, flavors and methods, and with so many variables you can get so many different results.
For instance, Mrs. Lipton prefers a beer with a hint of strawberry in the spring and pumpkin in the fall.
Elder prefers an amber or pale ale in summer and stouts in the winter.
"It's seasonal," Lipton said.
Employee Keith Milburn confesses that he has the Lucky Star to thank for expanding his horizons beyond Natural Light.
Milburn was one of the first to complete the 50 Beer Club after they officially started it on St. Patrick's Day 2009.
Many people have even completed the club multiple times since then. Each time you
complete a round, different rewards are offered, like T-shirts and pint glasses.
"In the beginning it was like a race," Mrs. Lipton said.
That quickly fizzled, and soon Lucky Star faithfuls developed their own approaches to getting 50 punches on their 50 Beer Club cards.
Some people go straight down the list, Lipton said. Others choose beers depending on alcohol content.
Milburn drinks his least favorite beers first to get them out of the way, whereas Mrs. Lipton said she goes with her mood when choosing a beer from the list.
Regardless of their strategies, people do get hooked in by the idea of joining the 50 Beer Club. The restaurant has handed out more than 600 club cards since 2009, and more than 200 have been completed.
Sometimes people also create their own scoring system for the beers on the card, Lipton said, rating them 1 to 10, or marking the ones they like with a "W," finding a new favorite in the process.
Is it good for business? Is it a gimmick? Yes, Lipton admitted, but he said his real reason for doing the club is to get people to try to like things they wouldn't have otherwise.
Milburn says the cards get people talking and socializing. He even met his wife there, and she's a club member, too.
Regular customer Michael Williams appreciates the chance to try something new, but for him, it's as much about pairing it with good food and good company -- despite the fact he's completed a 50 Beer Club card 10 times before he stopped keeping track.
He recommends the restaurant's Popper Burger paired with an Old Speckled Hen or the hummus platter with a Brooklyn Pennant.
"I like good ale. I like good beer," he said. "I am in here to relax with my friends ... hang out. It's rare that I would have more than two [drinks] to be honest with you."
Mrs. Lipton also stresses that the Lucky Star Lounge is a restaurant first, then a pub, and it isn't at all a place for people to come get crazy.
"This is like the local neighborhood 'Cheers,'" she said.
"As a patron, I don't come in here because I know I am going to drink beer," Williams said. "I come because I know I am going to see my friends."
Of course, knowing the staff knows you well enough to recommend a drink you'll like is a side benefit.
"They know exactly what I like," Williams said. "They know my tastes well enough they know what not to put in front of me."
Lucky Star Selection
• As of last week, the Lucky Star Lounge offered 76 beer varieties, with 10 on tap.
• The beer brewed closest to Front Royal is Yuengling in Pennsylvania. Lucky Star keeps a seasonal variety on tap.
• One of the latest and more popular additions to the menu is Liberty Ale -- an IPA (India pale ale) style beer.
• The Lucky Star offers beers from more than 20 states and several countries including Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Jamaica, Holland, Australia and the Philippines.
• Varieties of beer include pale ales, amber/red ales, IPAs, pale lagers, light lagers, American adjunct lagers, amber/red lagers, wheats, porters, bocks, and stouts.
• The restaurant also offers a menu of beer drink combinations including the Black & Brown, Irish Car Bomb and Snake Bite.
• If they don't carry a customer's specific beer of choice, co-owners Trevor and Lorena Lipton promise they have a beer to suit any palate.
• The beer menu changes seasonally and is due to availability.
• The Lucky Star offers a full food menu featuring appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and entrees. Catering is available.
• Live entertainment is featured on most nights.
• The Lucky Star Lounge is at 205 E. Main St. in Front Royal. For
more information, go online to www.luckystarlounge.us.com or facebook.com/luckystarlounge.