Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mini Vacation

I've been needing a mental reset, a change, a break for a while now. Maybe you've noticed? No real restaurant posts for months now, just random shit.

Actually, that's a pretty accurate description of life...random shit.

I've just been having a problem with food for a bit now, not food itself, but how we treat it, how it's thought about, written about, and, I am completely sick of "celebrity" chefs and their self-righteous diatribes on all topics, except one. I do think it's good that some are tackling diet-related issues like diabetes, obesity, and the completely fucked up way in which our food supply system works.

But, you won't see that on TV, because no one wants to watch it. No, they want to see flamboyance, and exotic ingredients, and four thousand dollar cakes.

So, yeah, I'm a little burned out right now. No worries though, it happens from time to time, I always come back around, and I took a step in that direction Friday night.

Friday was a shit day. One of those days where I am supposedly off, but end up spending half the day or better at the cafe putting out fires. This time it was a dead freezer, an ailing refrigerator, someone else's calamari going bad in my walk in, and a tax check that I had forgotten to account for being cashed and throwing me deep into the red when I thought I had at least a pretty good grip on the black.

I had gotten a good run in though, and was thinking tacos would be good for dinner, but didn't really want to eat anywhere in town. Go home? No way, I'd have to clean before I could cook and I just wasn't doing that. I wanted to sit, be waited on, have some good food and a couple really cold Coronas.

I drove from one end of town to the other, trying to make a decision...

No, their food sucks.

No, their food really sucks.

I wouldn't piss on the guy's place if it was on fire.


No, so-and-so's working, not in the mood for her bullshit.

No way.

Good, but I'm not in the mood for that...

and variations on all those all the way.

I was thinking about driving to Alamo, but really they don't have anything better and it's a forty-five minute drive, when I remembered the Inn. The Inn of the Mountain Gods is a couple of miles outside of town on the Mescalero Apache reservation and some friends had been telling me how good the lounge was. Kind of like a mini vacation, they had said. Something different, they had said. Sounded good.

I've been out to the Inn a few times since I've lived here. I'm not really a gambler, the food in the "fancy" restaurant is over-priced with pretentious service, presenting "real Mediterranean olives", olive oil and cheap balsamic for bread dipping as if they were from the hand of Thomas Keller himself, and the dance bar is country-western and if I'm going to a country bar, it's going to be to the Win, Place or Show, one of the best country bars on the planet and right up the street from the cafe.

But I hadn't been to the lounge, and though it serves appetizers from the same kitchen that serves the fancy place...and probably the buffet down the hall, now that I think about it...I heard that it good. So I went...and it was great.

I parked in the underground garage, and that was already foreign enough to get me feeling like I was somewhere different, somewhere new. I took the elevator up, walked past the line into the buffet on the right, the giant windows on my left open to the valets busy with a line of cars with Texas and Chihuahua tags; past the entrance of the casino, the bells and whistles trying their best to draw in passersby, down the sweeping stairs that pass to the left and right of a large fountain designed to look like an indigenous basket, the five year old who had been running up the stairs on the left, passing me and reaching the bottom just before me on the right, "I beat you," he said.

The restaurant is to the left, the lounge to the right, to the front is two-and-a-half stories of glass looking out to the lake and the mountain, one of the best views in the area. The lounge's west side is also made up of large windows and shares the same view and the sun was just low enough to be really annoying in the lounge. I picked a spot at the bar where I could watch the whole place, except for the piano player, who was behind me, ordered a Corona, looked at the menu, even though I pretty much knew I was getting the beef tips, and settled in.

I love to do this, watch people, make assumptions based on what I'm seeing, try to figure out a little bit about them in a short amount of time. I had gotten there a little early, six o'clock, so there wasn't a whole lot to work with...

A heavy set female bartender with short, spiked hair who rocked from side to side as she walked, looking almost like it would be easier for her to walk sideways like a crab. She is already falling behind in the not-at-all-busy lounge and as it should get busier as it gets later, I hope she's got backup coming in.

The cocktail waitress looks to be in her late twenties, married with at least one child. She has just enough padding (there is such a thing as too skinny), is wearing the universal uniform of her trade, too-short skirt, neck line cut low, and though I'm appreciating the view, I don't think she would choose this clothing for a night out...I'm thinking a knee-length skirt, green would be good. She is very pretty, in the way that some women from old New England money are pretty, she moves easily among the tables and chairs in the lounge, smiles often and is aware of her surroundings. I think she probably played soccer in college.

The piano player is a repressed homosexual in a long term, but loveless marriage to the girl he dated in high school or college. Now, I know that that is a stereotype, 'piano player playing show tunes has to be gay,' but I think I'm right on this one. He has been wearing the same tweed suit coat when he plays for probably thirty years. He seems to miss a note from time to time, but maybe it's freestyle, what the fuck do I know?

The couple around the corner of the bar from me don't interest me much, though they are kind of amusing. He looks like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show dressed in tennis clothes, and she is one of those women who drinks too many martinis while holding her glass up and waving it around so that everyone can see how cultured she is drinking martinis.

One other couple sits near the piano and call out tunes for the piano player to try. They are young and have a bizarre knowledge of 70s TV shows...please, no, not "Suicide is Painless"...God. Dammit.

A guy perches at the corner, a couple of stools over from me. He is in his fifties, dressed in jeans, short sleeve western shirt in a red plaid, with a simple belt and work boots. He is wearing a cowboy hat, the same one he wears to work, it is battered and stained with salt around the brim. He has the arms of one who uses them daily and orders Wild Turkey with a Coors Light chaser. He watches the entrance as he drinks.

Hiding from the family, I think. Raised on the farm, the kids all bolted as soon as they had the chance, went to college, got jobs with the gas company, or married accountants. He's glad that they have easier lives than his, but he's a little hurt that no one was willing to take his place and is tired of hearing about carpools, hair dyes, the best place in Dallas to get sushi, and how they're trying to figure out what's wrong with Todd, he keeps getting in trouble in school. Within five minutes of seeing little Todd for the first time in a year his grandfather knows what's wrong with him...remove the ear buds and get the tiny screen out of his face for a little bit and engage him in something instead of harping across car at him while on the way home from another parent-teacher conference.
On the deck, on the other side of the windows, a large family of Mexicans is having a reunion, the kids constantly moving through the lounge area and being patiently shooed out by the pretty cocktail.

My beef tips arrive and are fantastic. An appetizer, they are braised in a spicy beurre blanc, and served in a small cast iron crock surrounded by lots of small slices of good crusty bread. It is really, really good. What seems like too much bread is just enough I find as I finish mopping up sauce with the last crust and order another Corona.

By now the 70s TV fans have moved on, as have Riff Raff and Martini Lady and Dairy Farmer.

A sad looking lady comes in, sitting toward the middle of the bar. In her early 70s, she wears a lot of makeup, an uncomplimentary wig, and struggles for a minute getting onto the bar stool. She motions for an ashtray even before getting settled, but then doesn't produce the expected too-thin, too-long cigarettes, but a pack of Marlboro reds...and she orders scotch on the rocks.

Well, this is interesting. She lights a red, orders a sandwich, and alternates looking around with looking into her glass as if it had an answer.

A couple in their sixties sits down at the corner, then shifts over toward me so she wont' be as close to Sad Ladies smoke. He has a mid-range whiskey with water, she has a cheap Chardonnay. They don't stay long but they smile and touch each other frequently. They have been together a long time, but still like each other...and I think toward the end that is more

Another couple sits between them and Sad Lady. He is a runner, in his sixties, casually well dressed. She is in her mid to late fifties, and smoking hot. A shade darker than Marilyn-blond hair cut short with a with a tousled 'I don't have time to care about how my hair looks' look that takes a lot of work to achieve. None of the dead-face tightness that comes with Botox, her age shows in her hands and her taste in clothing, which matches his style. So, she's had surgery, but whoever did it was very, very good and thus very, very expensive. Real money. She has blue eyes and I get a slight smile when she catches me looking at her.

He orders white wine for both of them and a sandwich for himself. She orders a salad.

Sad Lady immediately starts talking to them, but it's when the piano player takes a break and comes around to talk to, they're part-time locals with a place at one of the country clubs, that we learn that her husband died last year and that he loved Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World", and, no rush, but would he mind playing that when he gets a chance?

Another couple sits in the lounge. They look to be around my age, she's a very pretty west-Texas blond, he is about 6-2, over three hundred pounds, all of it up top as it blossoms over his Wranglers, pushing his rodeo buckle to a forty-five degree angle. It is more mushroom cloud than muffin top. His cowboy hat is new, black, and of good quality. His mustache is one of those that runs down his chin getting bushier and thicker and grayer at the ends.

Let's see...sweethearts in high school, he was a football player, defensive lineman, she a cheerleader (let's go for one more stereotype), they might have even stayed together for a bit when he went to Tech and she went off to UT-Dallas, but then drifted apart, married others and raised their kids and now, freshly divorced from their respective spouses, have found each other on Facebook, married and are on their honeymoon.

Yeah, that's a hell of a stretch.

And so the night goes for another hour...some local real estate types come in and sit near the piano, chattering away. One of the women scopes out the money couple at the bar and makes a pretext of going to the bar and stops to introduce herself, placing herself between the man and Sad Lady who was talking about how she hated golf but started playing to please her husband, he died last year, but learned to enjoy the game.

Realtor Lady glances at me but correctly determines that there is no reason to say anything before returning to her group and calling out for a Miles Davis tune.

The piano player wants to know which one.

She can't name one.

I finish my second beer and order a coffee and watch for a few minutes longer. A young Hispanic couple sits at the other end of the bar...A Mexican woman and her mother order a couple of drinks and take them to a couple of chairs and sit down in the now-full lounge...a balding, pasty twenty-five year old with a bushy beard orders a pinot grigio and a Bud and takes it to a table where his girl, a young woman who looks like Mila Kunis immediately leans in as he sits and they start to talk. I don't know what the fuck that's about.

I'd like to stay a little longer, but I'm limiting myself to two beers these days, and once you switch to coffee bartenders tend to start ignoring you.

It's nice to get out of the ruts from time to time and look around.


Maria said...

Oh, i liked this sooo much. Especially the woman who requested Miles Davis and then couldn't name one tune! It reminded me of this woman who works with Bing and has a crush on her...I detest her. We once were sitting around at a party talking about music and she said (while gazing sweetly at Bing), "I just find that Miles Davis makes me go all soft and free inside..." Someone (I wish so BADLY it was me, but it wasn't..) asked her which song she liked the most and she got this blank look on her face and god forgive me, I laughed sort of snarkily.

I like to people watch too. When Bing and I were first together, she indulged me a lot by playing this game with me, but now...not so much.

John Gray said...

I love your essay on "bar life"

you write very well

Terroni said...

The cocktail waitress, the one who played soccer in college, she might be my favorite.