Restaurants in college towns may seem to bloom and fade like daffodils in the spring, but there are those old-line joints that make it work long term. They’re doing something right, be it the vibe, the food or the cheapness of the beer. They survive by reminding you that you’re drinking a beer, shoveling in a pizza, or wolfing a burger where college kids have been doing that decade upon decade. Never discount the tradition factor. It’s a powerful thing, and has kept many a college town joint going long past its due date.
One old-line college town restaurant that’s still got a few tricks up its sleeve is Hugo’s in Fayetteville. Dishing up drinks and pub fare on the Fayetteville town square since 1977 and housed in a cellar location straight out of a Beat poem, it’s the kind of place that’ll make even an oldster feel like the clock has been wound back to the glory days the minute you walk in the door.
The decor is the patina that hipster joints strive for, but rarely achieve: eclectic, dark, a little yellowed, with low ceilings, checkered tablecloths and old pictures predominating. A neon sign that says “TYPEWRITERS” lords over one wall, casting a red glow over the proceedings. Sit down in one of the creaking wooden chairs, and you half expect Belushi from “Animal House” to come in and demand a beer. The difference between Hugo’s and pretty much any other place in town is like the difference between Granddad’s motorcycle jacket and one you just picked up at the mall. It’s the vibe of years, gathered as slowly as moss on a rock, and you can’t buy it with a flea market’s worth of quirky knickknacks.
From the decent slate of appetizers, we tried the macho nachos ($8.95) and got about what we’d expected: a large, loaded plate of chips, cheddar, jalapenos, salsa, guac and other standard toppings. Nothing that’s going to set the world on fire, sure, but plenty good if what you want is a sponge to soak up the night’s round of beer pong.
For the main event, this reviewer tried a medium-well Bleu Moon Burger ($8.25 — and a local fave, we’d heard) while our companion tried the crepes cannelloni ($6.50).
We’re sticklers about burger preparation, and the one we had at Hugo’s was very fine: third of a pound of good ground beef, perfectly cooked and seasoned, covered in a generous amount of bleu cheese and red onion, on a griddled bun. It wasn’t the dripping, three-napkin mess that some big burgers can get up to, but it didn’t skimp on the flavor. Long story short, it’s one of the better burgers we’ve had in Fayetteville, and with bonus points for the vibe, it should be on any Arkansas burger-lover’s bucket list.
Our companion was not as happy with his crepes cannelloni. The dish was tasty but the portion a bit on the small size, and the cream sauce in need of some thickening. Thin sauce aside, however, he said that if a diner was looking for a lighter meal, it could definitely hit the spot.
Every town has a handful of must-hit foodie spots, and Hugo’s is probably a good candidate for that list in Fayetteville. While not everything we tried was memorable, the lovely rathskeller vibe of the joint and the weight of long years is enough to make up for the misses. Stick to what you remember eating in college — for us, burgers and beer, in mass quantities — and remember to lift several steins to dear old U., and you’ll likely come away pleased.