For most customers, bars are places to be social. Sure, sometimes folks go to let their tears drop in their beers or to contentedly watch a game in relative solitude, but for most of us, going to a bar and talking with folks you know and perhaps a few you don’t is a good way to relax.
Merriman Valley is thick with bars. Some cater to the young, boisterous, Red Bull shot-loving crowd, others are magnets for sports lovers, and a few attract older folks who like a well-made cocktail and ambient music that doesn’t force them to yell into the ear hole of the person next to them.
Late last summer, the colloquially known “Valley Bars” got another new entry in the form of Social 8. In the building that used to house Scorchers, Social 8’s name isn’t just a brand, it’s a squad goal for the two young managers. The club’s patronage is largely adult African-Americans, in a wide age range from late 20s and up, looking for a place to chill and have a nosh while grooving to (relatively) old school '90s and some new school R&B.
The bar is still in interior design transition, but some folks will surely be glad that the previous establishment’s signature blood-red décor has been replaced with a cool, soothing blue. The semi-circular bar is comfortable with a few of the requisite screens that are easy to watch or completely ignore.
The floor has high tables scattered around that can be moved for events, and a couch area for parties and large groups. The beer list is affordable if basic: Big Domestics, Big Domestics Lite and a few expected Big Imports, but there is a healthy variety of liquor available for those who enjoy spirits. Bartenders are friendly and attentive.
Social 8 offers a compact, action-packed menu ranging from $5 sweet potato french fries up to entrees including a T-bone steak with roasted garlic potatoes and sauteed broccoli for $25. Between those culinary price poles are burgers (including turkey), and their most popular item, chicken wings with various sauces.
We tried a few flavors, including the dry-rubbed Cajun Lemon Pepper, which had a tasty balance of seasonings. The Spicy Barbijon has a sweet start and slightly spicy finish that you can also order “hot, hot!” And the just plain delicious hot garlic Parmesan wings sport just enough of the very flavorful sauce to encourage shameless finger-licking.
During happy hour, 5 to 8 p.m. daily, wings are 65 cents along with $4 glasses of wine and whiskey. Social also recently started hosting Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
We also tried the shrimp and grits, and though I'm not a grit lover, I lapped up the buttery, well-seasoned shrimpy goodness as if it was my last (corn)meal.
Aside from the food, the Social 8 vibe is relaxed and friendly, and the owners have built a pretty solid schedule of monthly activities designed to attract patrons looking for a specific brand of bar fun. There is frequently live music on the First Friday, and a movie night, voted on by customers, on the third Friday. Second Fridays are Rhythm and Rhyme featuring local poets, spoken word artists, singers and rappers along with live painting.
Second Sunday are soul sessions where local DJs spin based on a theme (i.e., old school vs. new school) and every Thursday night there's karaoke. Some nights, such as Fresh Friday, have dress codes while others are come as you are.
Friends Gabrielle Daniel and Shontey Gibson have been regulars since the opening.
“Great service, a great environment. It’s a great place for the working women. It has a nice vibe, good music, great bartenders and good food,” Gibson said.
“The atmosphere is different than other Akron bars,” Daniel said. "I love the theme nights, because once you theme a night, people know it’s going to be an older crowd and you’re not going to run into any kids or fights. That’s definitely a plus for me. I’m very funny about where I go drinking.”
The two 30-somethings say they used to frequent other Valley bars but feel more comfortable and safe at Social 8.
“This place is the only reason I come [to the Valley] anymore,” Gibson said.
Social 8 will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday with an early 11 a.m. opening time, the full menu and, of course, themed shots (they’ll probably be green) and a DJ from 7 to 11 p.m.
Social 8 has brought something new to Merriman Valley, offering grown folks a place where hooking up and/or being seen isn’t the point. You can dig some live music, be social while watching a classic movie (we’re going to talk through it anyway), enjoy local talent and local food.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.