Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

No loughing matter: McLoughlin’s Restaurant & Bar

Oof, that’s awful. But apt enough. The world’s lousy with lousy bar-&-grills, so the lovable few (e.g. Charlie Brown’sRodney’s, Billy’s InnRacine’s) get arguably inordinate props around here. Still, a little extra cred now & then, especially considering how many big red Ds I’ve been handing out lately, seems only fair. Fuzzy with sake (this rather lovely, honeydewy one from Oregon, of all places) after an exhibition opening (also rather lovely) at PlatteForum the other night, the Director & I were raring to pass McLoughlin’s with flying colors, whatever those are. Let’s say chartreuse & puce.

Snug yet high-ceilinged, the place does cast a burnished glow around that odd, metallic little commercial park at the end of the Platte River Pedestrian Bridge, 1 that clearly lures the neighborhood’s natty swarm of condo gnats. When we were there, a dozen-plus shrieky young things were toasting some birthday boy with tequila shots & flying a toy helicopter by remote control around the room, spreading some real cheer in the process. Which is more than I can say for the kitchen.

Though everything we tried had its saving graces, nothing had its general act together.
Remember Funny/Not Funny, that recurring segment on the subversive if short-lived genius that was Wonder Showzen (which you can sample for yourself here) wherein a voiceover chorus of kiddies shouted “Funny!” & “Not funny!” alternatively throughout an eye-melting slideshow of mayhem & gore? Came to mind with the arrival of our hummus–not hummus.

Mhummus

Much as I appreciated the companion mounds of decent feta cubes & marinated olives, the centerpiece was nothing but chickpea puree, or my name’s not Denveater. Granted, my name’s not Denveater—that would be a funny coincidence though, what with me writing this blog & all, eh?—but the point is I’ll be damned if there was a drop of tahini or lemon juice in there or even a shred of garlic. Room-temperature pita was a bummer too.

The Director’s shepherd’s pie (or “shepard’s,” IIRC, although the spelling’s correct online) was quite the looker,

Mpie

with its unusually thin mashed-potato crust—practically a spud cracker, really. But with tough beef & crunchy carrot chunks, it wasn’t quite the taster; he touted the gravy, but my spoonful was neither here nor there.

Neither/nor was my sloppy buffalo chicken salad—an abomination in the first place, admittedly, but abominations kinda constitute my favorite food group (although even I draw the line here).

Mbuffalosalad

The buffalo sauce was the best part, which means the best part surely came out of a jar; McLoughlin’s doesn’t offer wings, & since the ranch dressing, cheapo blue cheese crumbles & limp, pale fries I swiped off a pal’s plate were also obviously straight from the distributor’s warehouse, I wouldn’t put a penny on the off-chance that they’re back there whipping up batches of the stuff for a measly couple of salads a day.

I would be willing to bet a whole penny on McLoughlin’s happy hour—which is on my kind of clock, from 2 to 6 pm & 11 pm to 2 am Monday through Saturday as well as all day Sunday—if only that, since the discount’s just a buck a drink. Otherwise, I’d just as soon save that red cent for something more special, like 1/5 of a gumball.

McLoughlin's Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

“Try not to have a good time—this is supposed to be educational”: Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill

Being a member of the “ironic generation” (see!), I was over
Peanuts before puberty,
except for that Christmas special where they go
berserk
.

But I guess ol’ Charlie Brown & the gang were pretty quick
with the dark repartee—which in fact sounds downright prescient
in the context of a trip to his

CB4

namesake watering hole
, where, to quote
Sally Brown , “I think I’ve discovered the
meaning of life—you just hang around until you get used to it.”

Ah, so true! “Around,” after all, happens in this case to be

CB3
a worn old piano lounge in a
legendary hotel
-turned-borderline-halfway-house,

the kind of place you
go & you stand on your own, & you leave on your own,
& you go home
to bed only to “lie awake & ask, ‘Where
have I gone wrong?’ [And] then a voice says to [you], ‘This is
going to take more than one night.'” (I just quoted Morrissey
& the Blockhead himself in the same sentence. Brilliant! My
work is practically done here.)

But in between going & leaving, you down your

CBwine
2-for-1 (or 4-for-2, or 6-for-3) happy hour specials, which they
deliver at the same time,

staring up at

CB1 CB2
the wacky bric-a-brac lining the shelves above the bar

& thinking, per
Linus—with whom you share a security
blanket, only yours is liquid, which means the thumbsucking’s
only a matter of time—”I love mankind, it’s people I can’t
stand.”

What I love, in short, is this place, with its split-level,
dim-lit coziness, its insane singalongs, its brass-studded maroon
vinyl armchairs straight out of the forcibly hearty Continental
franchises of my childhood—Steak & Ale,
der Dutchman. And oh, the things you’ll learn here—hence the
title quote from
Meet_lucy_big —although the chances you’ll have
repressed most of them by morning aren’t small.

In fact, I’ll leave it to the saucy gents over at Denver Six Shooter to
annihilate your innocence in that particular fashion. I’ll do it
in my usual way, via all the gory details of my killer gluttony.

Thus, lesson #1 & only: The food here truly isn’t bad. I
mean, it’s junk, but it’s the kind of junk that makes you do that
dance, the 1 I linked to in the first sentence—which,
coincidentally, is exactly the kind of dance that the music that
Charlie Brown’s pianist, much like
Schroder , plays calls for.

Because fried calamari is right next to it on the menu (sprawling
like it’s drunk, by the way, with whole sections for pizza,
Greek, Mexican, Liechtensteinian—or not, okay—& so on), it
never occurred to me the Mediterranean calamari might also be
fried; I assumed it would come sauteed or grilled or something.
Which only goes to show I’ve been hanging out in all the very
wrong places
lately. Here Charlie’s is a fave with the
Prison
Talk
habitués & I thought the chef’d be whipping up some
sort of

650.x600.eat.NR? Of course it was fried!

In fact it was so fried the verb it was barely squid the noun. It
was like we had to find the cephalopod needle in every batter
haystack.

CBcalamari

Just about anywhere else, that would have made me do my
Incredible Hulk act, but here, it was just as well, what with all
those crispy nuggets basically serving as chips for a zingy
mixed-in dip of artichoke, capers, tomatoes & feta.

Speaking of dip, the spinach-artichoke dip is just so cute &
country-style. Look, with the Nabisco crackers & the carrot
& celery sticks, it’s almost like homemade.

CBdip

Which isn’t to imply it isn’t. Spinach-artichoke dip is just 1 of
those things with which it’s frankly hard to tell, even for a
goddamn gastronomic genius like me, since it pretty much
precludes the use of superior ingredients. Why would you make
mayo from scratch, grate real parmigiano reggiano, boil &
mince fresh veggies & so on only to waste it all in a
mishmash that, in its very purity, isn’t likely to hold together
half so well as its processed counterpart? And so if the whole
thing’s processed anyway, what’s the big difference whether it’s
thrown together on-site or reheated from a package (again, in
this particular case, as opposed to, say,
this lovely one
)?

But Charlie’s condimentality (not that dips are condiments per
se; in my own private pyramid, they constitute a major food
group) really, seriocomically reveals itself wherever baked
potatoes are involved—

CBchoppedsteak
as with my chopped steak with onions, bacon & of course dear
boiled peas.

Beyond being a bit dry—a little gravy or even A-1 would have
helped; ditto more deeply caramelized onions—the meat was just
fine. Still, it actually proved the sideshow to the main
attraction of the potato, which came with this:

CBcondiments

Those containers are, I believe, pint-sized. A pint is a pound
the world around.* One contains bacon bits, 1 sour cream—&
the third, butter. They gave me a pound of butter for my 1-pound
potato. Sheer gratitude practically brought tears to my eyes.

Meanwhile, the Director polished off his huevos rancheros like he
was confusing eggs, cheese, beans, tortillas, green chile &
are those hashbrowns? with a salad.

CBhuevos

His verdict: “Pretty good, actually”—& since he’s something
of a snob about la
comida,
that amounts to solid praise. To paraphrase
Pigpen160x232, sort of makes you want to treat ol’
Charlie Brown’s with more respect, doesn’t it?

* I know, I know,
not for dry ingredients
.


Charlie Brown's Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

Getting sky-high* at Peaks Lounge

A dear old lit professor of mine back at BU, Aaron Fogel, has this poem, “The Man Who Never Heard of Frank Sinatra.” (“Once, just as he was about to hear the name Frank Sinatra / A plane flew overhead.”) If you ask me (& really even if you don’t), it’s about the wonderfully odd knowledge gaps imagination can seep into.

Which doesn’t mean it will. Since, despite a hugely hole-riddled hippocampus, my own capacity for fancy isn’t sufficient—certainly not to have filled in the void created by my ignorance of Peaks Lounge in the Hyatt at 15th & Welton—I’m tickled, kids, to finally be in the know. On the 27th floor, it’s got a panoramic view of downtown & the Rockies only slightly marred by some high-rise construction project (not that you can tell

Gallery_57

from the website photo,

but you know what the outdoors looks like, right?). Since it’s also just a block from the convention center, it’s pretty critic-proof. So the fact that it offers a decent—solid if not wildly intriguing—selection of 20 or so wines by the glass is a fine surprise; the fact that your server (any of a bevy of perky bobbed brunettes, giving you a vaguely awkward glimpse into management’s fantasy life) brings little carafes of snack mix with every drink order—not every round but every drink—is finer; & the fact that, of the smattering of items on the bar menu, the 2 dips we had were delicious is finest of all. So often

Peaksspinachartichokedip

spinach-artichoke dip

is just a repository for pantry gunk, stringy & clumpy by turns, but this 1 was unusually creamy, yet no less tangy, even pungent, for that. Ditto

Peaksgreenchilecorndip

the green chile–corn dip that looks like a deviled-egg sculpture,

which contained just enough of its namesake ingredients to have a distinctive kick, not so much that it might as well have been green-chile stew (on the 1 hand) or creamed corn (on the other) with a mayo problem. Both dips were accompanied by warm, soft grilled flatbread with an almost buttery savor.

At least that’s how I remember them. Seeing as how I was on beverage #5, though, for all I can really tell you, they were like glue & cardboard & we used them to build a replica of the skyline for the general entertainment of the equally addled pharmaceutical reps all around us. Although if that’s the case, surely it speaks all the better of the place?

* I originally had “Getting stiff at Peaks,” but apparently “stiff” as an adjective doesn’t mean “drunk,” it only means “a drunk” as a noun. I learned as much from, get this, a glossary of drunken slang compiled by AA members. Probably on cocktail napkins.

Caveaurting

Oh, I guess I didn’t really go cavorting through the new Caveau Wine Bar uptown, or gallivanting, or even traipsing. I pretty much just sat there on the sofa staring up at

Caveau2 _40644684_warhol203

this attractive enough reminder of Warhol’s piss paintings

over the fireplace & around at the attractive enough space (which glowed warmly enough in browns to almost obscure its office-building setting) along with its smattering of attractive enough clientele while perusing the interesting enough wine list. What the selection lacks in diversity & quirkiness—for instance as compared to that of nearby Tastes—it makes up for in service orientation. A, during happy hour (from 4 PM to 7 PM), all wines by the glass priced at $12 or less—i.e., the vast majority—go for $5; those costing $13 or more are 1/2-price. And B, it also offers a Flight of Terroir, which kinda sounds like the title of

Escape_from_new_york_import

your average B-movie

but is in fact a grab bag–style sampling of any 3 of 7 varietals—cab, chard, syrah, sauv blanc, pinot, zin—for $9. Or maybe you choose 1 varietal & the flight represents 3 different regions. Whatever, it’s a nice enough idea.

I had a pleasant enough malbec & a pleasant enough Chilean cab before heading home without trying anything off their very limited menu, though the tuna tartare sprinkled with sesame seeds & orange-infused olive oil & the picnic basket of charcuterie & cheeses sounded tasty enough (even if the use of the plural “panini” to mean the singular “panino” is always enough to turn my Italophilic stomach).

Well, I’ve said enough (enough) to give you the picture; in further light of the fair number of tastings they apparently host, this place just might prove adequate indeed.

Mixed Tastes Wine Bar & Bistro (plus inexplicable hijinks at India’s Pearl)

There’s this exchange in DeLillo’s Americana:

“Do you think I’m handsome?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Do you want to know if I think you’re pretty?”

“Okay.”

“I think you just miss,” I said.

Ditto, Tastes. Hit the uptown branch last night with Beth Partin to be moderately charmed & mildly chagrined by turns, for pretty much the same reasons I go back & forth between digging & deriding the Village Cork. Like its fellow wine bar & self-styled bistro, it’s got quaint looks & quietude on its side. It boasts an eclectic, ever-evolving & not-at-all-expensive selection of wines by the glass—although why, amid all the much-appreciated tasting notes, the list omits vintage is beyond me—& affable folks to serve them. My Fleur de Cap pinotage was indeed lighter than a pinot and deeper than a cinsault; I certainly enjoyed pretending I could tell that the Can Blau blend of carignan, grenache & syrah offered hints of cedar, minerals & baking spices; & I especially liked the carménère, which was apparently violet. Or so I wrote down, period, being rather rosy at that point myself.

But as at the Village Cork, the hors d’oeuvres tend to look a little more like afterthoughts in person than they seem on paper.  Take the serrano ham–wrapped, brie-stuffed dates with balsamic “cream”:

Tdates

It’s a minor quibble that the advertised cream is in fact a reduction; it’s a bigger quibble that deglet noors are just like the cockroaches to the grand tarantulas that are medjools. Bigger, richer, moister dates would have struck a greater contrast to the ham & given the cheese a tad more room to assert itself.

Actually, the stand-alone cheese we selected was, but for the generous portion, likewise underwhelming; honestly, I can’t recall what it supposedly was—a Pierre Robert? a Brillat Savarin? one of those named for some French joker at any rate, the description of which read as though it was studded with bits of strawberry, which it was, if by that we agree to mean just accompanied by cranberries instead. It was also a bit on the dry side, enough so that it seemed a lesser imitation of its type, which is probably why I’m forgetting what that type was exactly.

Tcheese

As for the meatballs with Belgian curry sauce & pineapple,

Tmeatballs

they were actually a treat, the curry sauce being unexpectedly almost honey-mustardesque—but, really, Dole tidbits? If fresh pineapple might be too overwhelming—& it might—how about incorporating a little bit of candied pineapple or even pineapple juice into the meatballs themselves? Or, you know, just letting the pineapple idea go altogether? The canned stuff just smacks so hard of dessert with grandma at the nursing home.

Speaking of smacking, however, the duck liver pâté really was, lipwise. Whether or not it was housemade wasn’t clear, but its quality was, on the mild side but creamy & smooth as could be.

Tpate

Never knowing when enough is enough until afterward, I talked poor Beth into joining me to meet the Director for a nightcap in the upstairs lounge at India’s Pearl, which turned into an afterdinner (you know, like an afterparty, only more belly-distending). While the Director had his usual lamb vindaloo—which happened to be especially, wonderfully on fire last night—I opted for the excellent malai kofta,

IPmalaikofta

really just about the most comfortingly rich rendition of fried potato-paneer-nut–raisin-et cetera patties in creamy curry ever.

And believe you me, some comfort was in order under the circumstances that were one-man karaoke night—the one man being our server, who pretty much tended to the 3 of us, namely his entire audience, between Gwen Stefani numbers. Straight out of some would-be Cassavetes, I tell you.

So I asked myself, I said, really, how bad could Hooters be?

Our dear Petey, whom you might know well by now, accidentally won some sort of raffle to become the proud recipient of 50 free wings at the Hooter’s on S. Colorado. That Petey happens to be gay only made his victory all the sweeter; as another friend said, the only way it could have been any better is if he were also vegetarian.

Tell you what, it would’ve been better if I were gay & vegetarian. Then I’d have had no complaints.

Lest you were ever the least bit curious—lest you ever wondered whether, just maybe, the joint had something to offer other than T&A in every way, shape & form, size, style & color, you can stop it right now & forever. What passes (believe you me, right through) as food is no less a combination of fatty tissue & implant leakage than the waitress parts are.

Surely I exaggerate? A, don’t call me Shirley (hoo boy, does that ever get old?), & B, get a load of the fried pickle chips we ordered from our own assemblage of parts, D—, sweet as could be if not yet fully sentient since her reanimation on the lab table (“I don’t even know what that is,” she cheerfully proclaimed when the Director asked for a Dewar’s). More to the point,

Hooterspickles

try an eyeful of the otherwise unexplained “tangy dipping sauce” close up:

Hootersdip

If that isn’t a secret blend of processed cheese & silicone I don’t know what is!

I know it isn’t the blue cheese & ranch dips that came with our wings—naked & battered (hey! just like the waitresses) respectively—

Hooterswings2

Hooterswings

because those came in the very same sealed containers from Naturally Fresh (good one, FDA!) you get with your airplane food, & their labels very clearly state they’re made from dairy seasoning & silicone.

Okay, that was mean about the waitresses. Our pal Betsy Tallfold was much more sympathetic: “Felt sorry for the servers who are half-naked & carrying around plates of carnage. I expected the tank tops & running shorts, although I’m sure you couldn’t run in those shorts without some major chafing issues. I didn’t know about the tights. Must’ve been two centimeters thick. I’m sure they offer some type of warmth & protection (prophylactic?) and may separate Hooters from a typical tittie bar, but I kept thinking figure skater. Put some sequins on that shit and they could all be Kristi Yamaguchi.”

Oh, I think they’re all already yamaguchi.

I have no idea what that means.

In all fairness, despite appearances, my veritable wastebasket of an oyster roast—oh yes I did—

Hootersoysters

Hootersbutter

could have been much, much, much worse. At $22 or about a buck a pop, only about 1/4 were mealy, rubbery or otherwise foretastes of coming regret.

Sure hope the same can be said for the rest of the oysters in the place, catch my drift?

Pi-eyed

The final few days of the Starz Denver Film Festival being
the most whirlwind, we checked into the Hilton Garden Inn downtown last week so
we could decrease the distance between us & the action, aka drunk
point A & drunker point B, blissfully unaware our sweet little secret hideaway was about to be converted into our sweet little convalescent home.

The evening before his seizure, though, the Director was
able to clear his schedule sufficiently to give us some time alone together at Pi
Kitchen + Bar
off the lobby; the evening after his
seizure, his schedule got cleared sufficiently for him, not that that amounted
to us being alone there together so much as together there alone (he’s addled for at least a
day, usually more, following these electrically awry extravaganzas his brain
stages, & is presently unable to retrieve any info about our revisit). I’d noticed the place before but had no cause or inclination to check
it out until then, being naturally wary of any eatery with a name that’s smarter
than I am (e.g. the Boston area’s obscurity-bound Conundrum & Apocrypha)—an
attitude the cool old journeyman bartender who’d surely be played by Tom
Wilkinson
in the movie version validated when I asked,
“Why Pi?”: “Because they gave ungodly amounts of money to some
consultant to come up with it, that’s all I’ve ever heard, & I’ve been here
since Day 1.” Of course, his answer simultaneously neutralized my suspicions too, going to show that the pretentiousness of the name at least hadn’t
rubbed off on the staff, affable and attentive down the line.

That
includes the kitchen crew. Without implying it belongs on any local connoisseur’s
short (or even long) list of must tries, I can safely say Pi has its charms,
namely an air of casual quietude; the sorts of diversionary bartop perks that
point to a familiarity with & forbearance toward the world’s more seasoned &/or lonely flies, including snack mix

Photo 23

& collections of trivia,

Pibooks

whence I learned that a) the US military has created a nearly indestructible
sandwich that stays fresh for 3 years & b) “a fig is technically a fish”—or
so I noted after a few glasses of surprisingly decent, palate-rich yet
wallet-cheap ($25/bottle) Trapiche Oak Cask Pinot Noir, but I’m pretty sure it actually read “a fig is technically a flower,” unless it was an only randomly
fact-checked collection of trivia; &, above all, a menu that suggests its
creators were far more aware of both the limitations & the strengths of hotel
line cooks resigned to feeding a largely accidental clientele resigned in turn
to being fed thereby than were the apparently overcompensated consultants who preceded
them, emphasizing ultra-ease from the standpoints of both execution &
enjoyment.

Over
the course of 2 meals, we polished off this fresh-tasting, tangy
paprika-oil-drizzled hummus with warm, fluffy pita triangles;

Pihummus

the Buffalo Meets Italy, a “prociutto [sic] & buffalo blue cheese panini [sic, unless 2 halves count as 2 wholes],” bubbling over with cheese that resembled nothing I expected & accompanied by the precisely expected set of plastic pick-up sticks that are previously frozen institutional fries, but mesmerizing enough nonetheless with its pile of warm grilled ham that I forgot to gobble 2nd, snap 1st;

Pipanino

this mac & cheese—all the Director could chew with his screwy seized jaw—

Picrabpasta

which contained, albeit not in spades, actual shreds of lump crabmeat amid the actually al dente penne, creamed in actual mascarpone as well as melted fontina;

& this braised pork sandwich,

Piporksandwich2

whose advertised slices of pancetta & green apple (as opposed to unadvertised slice of Swiss-like stuff) I have no recollection of encountering, so unless I’m exhibiting some sort of sympathy amnesia, I’m vouching for their absence even as I realize an inundation of fairly honeyed BBQ sauce may simply have effectively obliterated their physical presence.

Likewise, I’m inclined to chalk the pre-cerebral-shitshow lack of impact these crab egg rolls with cilantro-citrus dipping sauce made on us

Pieggrolls

up to their apparent origins on a conveyor belt in Garden City rather than some earnest wonton wrapper’s work surface at the Garden Inn.

Still, insofar as it showed rather more genuine character than it had a right to, I didn’t mind getting chance 2nds on Pi, nor would I object to someday grabbing 3rds.

Pi Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

Rodney’s: Same old place in a whole new world

Not quite the oasis for the down-&-out in Cherry Creek we thought it was, Rodney’s turned all of its TVs to the Fox News channel last night; we hunkered down in our booth to watch the election returns surrounded by sandy-haired middle-management lifers in ties & their sandy-haired Talbot’s robots of wives.

Compensating somewhat was the Log Lady, eschewing her usual place at the bar with a paperback for a table near the flatscreen with an equally gray matron who requested her martini(s) with Tanqueray, 2 olives, please, plus a glass of water & another of ice on the side. She was like Eloise in her dotage.

Cover_eloise_front

“Please send up a shish kebab, three raisins & a fork to me, Eloise, & charge it s’il vous plait”

+

92R

Revlon 92R “Snowfall”

Also compensating was the garlic bread that came with the mussels—not some incomprehensible Kraft parmesan–covered loaf of fluff, it was crusty & just rubbed with butter & garlic. The broth was even garlickier, whether or not thanks to the jarred stuff—couldn’t quite tell, but the bits looked pretty uniform—which in turn compensated somewhat for the fact that the majority of bivalves were a shade overcooked, a touch rubbery.

Rodneysmussels

The steak salad special was 1 of those things I like to call “good,” by which I mean not “high-quality” so much as “full of crap,” tasty crap: crumbled bacon, sliced avocado & red onion, clearly prebagged shredded cheddar & jack, chopped tomato & lettuce as well as medallions of steak cooked to order (“somewhere between rare & medium-rare,” as I always request it to everyone’s undoubted exasperation):

Rodneyssteaksalad

I asked for both blue cheese dressing & balsamic vinegar—they make a nice contrast—but got balsamic vinaigrette, which for once wasn’t offputtingly sweet. I seriously doubt either dressing was homemade, but whatever the label on the bottle, it wasn’t like

Poison

By contrast, having in the past slobbered with glee all over the prime rib special, the Director didn’t lose a drop of drool to last night’s version:

Rodneysprimerib

What wasn’t fat was tough & stringy; he left about half of it on the plate. It looked like a pile of Hasim Rahman’s forehead post-Holyfield beatdown.

Rahmansp5

Le jus was juicy though, deeply meaty, & the sour cream was spiked with horseradish—just enough, I imagine, to leave an even bitterer taste in the mouths of our fellow diners after Obama finished giving McCain his Rahmanesque lumps.

Freakin’ eureka: Vinny’s Bar, Morrison

Back in Boston—technically Somerville—there was (still is) a beloved little Sicilian joint in the back of a Superette called Vinny’s at Night. It was semi-insiderly, virtually splattered in red sauce & always a blast. Up in Morrison, there’s a beloved little dive bar at the top of some stairs around the corner of a building whose first floor houses your average chain-in-training, Tony Rigatoni’s. As Vinny’s at Night was to the convenience store fronting it, so Vinny’s Bar is to the pasta parlor beneath it: its better half by far.

The moment the Director, the Whistler, the Mad Russian & I entered the place to grab a bite before the Sigur Rós show at Red Rocks (magical, by the by), we knew we’d come home. Above all, like all of us, Vinny’s Bar is a deeply confused mishmash of influences. If you look here it could be a wiseguys’ HQ,

VinnysBar4

here a droopy cabana,

Vinny'sBar1

here a groovy patchouli-filled pad,

VinnysBar3

& here a grimy honkytonk:

VinnysBar2

However you read the top sign, you can rest assured the bottom sign’s only a joke, folks. They actually have 4 house reds, more than most holes-in-the-wall (or -first-floor-ceiling, as the case may be), according to the very nice & not at all wise guy who served us & who, on the beefy side, looked like he could’ve been Vinny. But then so did all the other guys who seemed to be tramping up & down the stairs between the 2 establishments, so don’t quote me on that.

By now you can see where this is going. We drank, we talked, some of us smoked, we ordered a meal that under any other circumstances I would not call awesome in any way, shape or form, even remotely or even for a second, but that right there, right then, couldn’t have been better.

Even this preternaturally springy garlic bread. (Hey, at least it appears to have seen the inside of a broiler.)

TRgarlicbread

Even this slop pail’s worth of fettuccine Alfredo, whose recipe I believe called for a 1:1 ratio of cups of sauce to noodles.

TRfettuccine

Even this sausage calzone,

TRcalzone2

which, for all its startling resemblance to a beached whale parmigiana, actually had some nice hunks of spicy sausage in there amid the blubber.

In short Vinny’s Bar is my hero.

The Salad Series: Shotgun Willie’s, or, Don’t look, ma, no panties

Ha! Bet you weren’t expecting that. Shotgun Willie’s isn’t known for its, um, fresh produce.*

But it isn’t not known for food; beneath that giant pistol-topped sign

SWsign

is a marquee that often reads “Prime Rib $6.95,” which caught my eye not long after I arrived in Denver a year ago & got me to thinking it was high time I confront head-on a post-traumatic fear of strip clubs triggered by a bachelorette party in Oklahoma City in the early ’90s, where I saw women I could still picture on their Big Wheels stuffing dollar bills in the tie-dyed thong of a bubble-muscled meathead with a real live mullet—not the ironic gestures theretoward you see today but a frosted blonde business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back. I recall actual whooping & grinding with pumped fists, & then everything goes black.

So I just kept it in the back of my mind, until a recent piece on Chow.com titled “Strip Club Eats” named Shotgun Willie’s among the top 10 in the nation—singling out for special praise the cheese-stuffed, deep-fried, bacon-wrapped shrimp Fernando—& I was finally moved to act. Thus did the Director & I find ourselves admittedly somewhat shyly huddling in a back corner in a room like a pinball machine—all flashing neon &, uh, flippers & plungers & bonus plays—to catch the show, onstage & off.

While it’s true sociological insight can & does flash anywhere humans interact, there’s just something about a strip club that fosters heightened awareness & curiosity about the people around you, starting in our case with the fact that the Director had to be fingerprinted in order to start a tab—a preventative measure, our cocktail hostess explained, against customers who swear up & down to credit card company telereps, their wives standing dubiously by, that they’ve never set foot in the place. We watched dancers of all shapes & stripes &, judging by the head on the 1 in the Director’s illustration at bottom, planetary persuasions, leading us to theorize about the history of strip clubs from antiquity (King Herod’s palace being perhaps 1 of the more notoriously gruesome forerunners) onward through the civil rights era & the women’s rights era to modern-day iconization in pop culture via The Sopranos & Courvoisier-soaked hip-hop videos & pole-dancing classes at your local gym (but not, unfortunately, via the darkly brilliant, all-too-forgotten Cassavetes flick The Killing of a Chinese Bookie). We watched as patrons from various walks of life—wannabe thug, anonymous Joe, hyper-dapper gent—seemed indeed to assume the zigzag ways of pinballs, ricocheting between stages 1 moment, then slowing to a strangely quiet stop as something came over them, moments of faraway self-reflection, tallboys still in hand, bass thumping. (Of what was it I was thinking?, as Stevens so hauntingly overwords it in “Metaphors of a Magnifico.”) Then they’d resume zinging & dinging around. We tried to separate the regulars from the newcomers, the probable misogynists from the hopeless romantics. Shotgun Willie’s seems to draw more of the latter (maybe it’s that name, pretty Looney Tunes as innuendos go—pretty Yosemenite Sam. Heh), contributing to a surprising roomwide undercurrent of, on the 1 hand, respect for &, on the other, protectiveness toward the showgirls, nearly as palpable as the upper current of lust.

Granted, everything seems palpable after a few indifferent but enormous glasses of wine.

But even then, not everything seemed palatable. For obvious reasons I didn’t bring my camera, but as the below clearly shows, our fried mushrooms left a lot to be desired. They weren’t, mind you, actually leaking black sludge—not sure what the Director was going for there—but they were reeking of a recent thaw, clearly prefrozen in bulk.

SW1

The Director’s steak, by contrast, was well done, by which of course I mean not well done at all but medium-rare, which is really all you can ask for, other than for it to not sprout black hair. I assume that’s supposed to be sizzle. As for the next drawing,

SW2

I have confirmed that the figure to the left is not in fact a severely addled Bavarian beer maid but a gung-ho guy’s guy whose penchant for peasant blouses & minis are his business. To his right is a fine rendering of a salad, though not the 1 I had that night, which was pretty light on the lettuce & heavy, heavy, heavy on the grilled chicken & fried onions, cheddar & avocado, black beans & barbecue sauce. So, you know, (y)um.

* Kids’ Korner: How now! There are approximately a dozen double entendres sprinkled throughout this post—some marked by pregnant pauses, or rhetorical devices used to express hesitation for comic effect, some not. Can you find them all?