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Down the length of the bar atRamparts Tavern & Grill patrons line up and burn cigarettes while contraptions suspended from the ceiling create a din of rushing air that competes unfavorable with the nearby jukebox. The slight haze creates an atmosphere that’s almost eerie. Only a few bars in Virginia with separate dining spaces and sequestered air-handling systems still permit smoking.
Despite the ability to smoke here, the main attraction sits just inside the entrance – a tall novelty machine bearing the name Lobster Zone. The premise is simple and stated succinctly on the front of the machine: You catch ‘em, we cook ‘em. Insert a couple of dollar bills, take aim with a joystick, and if you’re lucky, a lobster becomes bar food.
Watching an obviously intoxicated woman work the crane, I’m struck by the fact that there are far more efficient ways to secure a lobster dinner. The mechanical claw descends and wraps its three fingers around an unsuspecting victim, but with a quick flit of its tail, the crustacean asserts its will to live. It seems the only lobster anyone gets to eat are the ones that have grown tired of the game and accepted their fate.
While I nurse a Budweiser, a bartender tells me that the owner likes to joke the machine will put his children through college. Watching this woman feed the Lobster Zone more than 30 bucks, I’m not sure if I feel sorrier for her or her unrealized meal.
Ramparts is far from destination worthy, but I’ll stop in when I’m in the neighborhood. Monday’s half-price burger night is a reasonable draw. The weekly special adds a number of specialty items to the menu, including a salmon burger. The patty, which amounts to salmon in a blender bound with a touch of mayo is surprisingly satisfying, and sells out most nights.
The lobster dinner, however, is seemingly always available.