“The parking lot is packed,” my wife, said. “It doesn’t look good.”
“I’ll go inside and see,” I said. “You never know.”
“I’ll wait out here.”
Upon entering the restaurant, I went up to the hostess, “I know it’s a longshot. But do have a table for two?”
The hostess smiled winsomely and ran her finger down the reservation book. Judging from the packed tables I could see from my perch, I figured we were probably out of luck – but that’s what you get when you walk into a popular restaurant on Saturday night without a reservation.
As the hostess’ winsomeness began to increase exponentially, I looked over at the bar and saw four open stools, which surprised me. Normally they’re all taken at that hour
“Any problem with eating at the bar?” I asked.
“We’ll sit there. Thank you.”
Pivoting to my left, I hopped onto a stool and motioned the barman over. “A Chopin martini, please. Dirty. Olives. Up.”
“Right away, sir.”
“And two menus, please. We’ll be having dinner.” Then I fished my phone out of my blazer and texted my wife. I got us seats at the bar.
I already ordered a drink. Come on in.
I have to find a parking spot.
My wife, for reasons I can’t fathom, doesn’t like eating at a bar. I have no problem with it. Besides, if we went to another restaurant, we’d probably run into the same paucity of open tables and fritter away the precious hours of our “date night.” Ordering a drink without her was my way of sealing the deal.
“Your martini, sir,” the barman said, depositing my alcoholic treat in front of me. Taking a sip, I smiled. Cold, bracing and properly made, I enjoyed the taste of 80 proof ethanol on my tounge and began to relax. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Excuse me,” a woman wearing a fur wrap said anxiously. “Is this seat taken?’
“I’m holding it for my wife. She’s parking the car.”
Now, I’ll admit I was being a bit of a dick. Not wanting to sit at the very end of the bar and get clipped by the waiters’ fetching drinks, I took the stools in the middle, leaving one stool open on either side. If the staff had asked me to move over, I would have. But no one asked.
My wife walked in, and I waved her over. “I know you’re not a fan of eating at the bar,” I said. “But humor me tonight.”
“No argument from me,” she said. “I got the last parking spot.” Then, after she ordered a margarita, we began to peruse the menu. Before Annie’s drink was done being shaken, however, two singles snagged the stools next to us. I also noticed a throng of people were now queued up in front of the hostess stand.
“Excuse me,” a testy man said to the hostess. “But where can I park my car?”
“In the lot, sir?”
“There’s no spots. And I have a reservation!”
As the manager moved into defuse the situation, I turned to Annie and said, “We got here in the nick of time.”
“This place filled up quick.”
Located in a repurposed train station in the wealthy town next to mine, the restaurant is very popular with the locals. Expensive with excellent food and service, it’s a once or twice a year splurge for my wife and I. But judging from the huffing and puffing from the aggrieved diners waiting for tables and looking forlornly at the packed bar, I got the sense they thought this was their private dining room.
“Do you remember the asshole in the Porsche the last time we came here?” I asked Annie.
“You scared him to death.”
Last year, my wife and I were heading into the restaurant’s parking lot when a Porsche 911 cut me off, forcing me to slam on the brakes. Aggravated, I watched the driver, a tanned fiftyish man with a sweater draped over his shoulders, get out of his car and brush something off the hood. I also noticed he’d parked outside lines, taking up extra space to discourage anyone from parking next to his fine German ride. So, being me, I pulled my fine Japanese ride as close to his Porsche as possible. Stunned, the man watched as I opened my door micromillimeters from his car’s precious bodywork and gingerly slipped out.
“Evening,” I said to him as we walked toward the restaurant. “Nice car.” Of course, the man said nothing, but decided to get into a staring contest with me. Mistake. People have asked me to show them my thousand yard stare in the past, but it’s not something I can turn on and off on command; it only happens when circumstances align to produce it. This was one of those times. So, I dumped a “I might look like a normal guy, but I could have several hitchhikers buried in my back yard, an unhealthy gun fetish, hate Germans, and haven’t taken my court mandated medication in a month so why take the chance?” energy into the man’s ocular nerve and smiled. The man, of course, said nothing, but I so unnerved him that he shot furtive looks my way the rest of the night.
“A happy memory,” I said, sipping my drink. “A happy memory.” Then we ordered – a wedge salad to share, blackened tuna for me and shrimp and pasta dish in a horseradish sauce for my wife. Then, as we were eating our entrees, the owner stopped by to ask how everything was.
“Excellent as always,” I said.
“Thank you for being understanding and sitting at the bar,” he said. “It was a ninety minute wait for a table.”
“The best seat in the house is the one you’re in. Nice to see you’re so busy.”
“Nice to see you again, sir.” We come here one or two times a year, but this guy remembered my face. Classy. Then again, he probably buys Prozac in bulk from Costco to put up with patrons like Porsche guy.
As we finished our food, I looked at the other customers eating at the bar. Everyone seemed happy, especially the guy on my right. After downing two cocktails, he was already halfway through an expensive bottle of Pinot Noir and feeling no pain. Then again, neither was I. For me, a martini and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc is overdoing it these days. And, although I wouldn’t have minded a digestif, we ordered one dessert to share instead – a blueberry cobbler.
“It’s tasty,” I said, after taking a forkful. “But it doesn’t taste like blueberry.”
“Something’s not right, “Annie said.
“Oh no!” the bartender said. “You got the wrong thing!”
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s the mushroom puff pastry!”
“With ice cream and crème fraiche?”
“The kitchen made a mistake,” he said, whisking it away. Then, when he returned, he put what looked like the exact same thing in front of us. “Sorry about that, sir.”
After cutting the pastry open to ascertain its blueberry bona fides, I said. “No worries. They look very similar.” But truth be told, I would’ve eaten the mushroom cobbler and ice cream anyway, but I doubt Porsche guy would have been as forgiving.
Dessert done and check paid, I whispered in Annie’s ear. “Five seconds until someone hops into our seats.”
“They won’t have a chance to get cold,” Annie said. Sure enough, a couple pounced on them the moment our feet slid off the bar rail. Like I said, the place was busy.
Walking to the car, I surveyed the expensive automobiles in the parking lot which made my Toyota look positively plebeian. Oh well, at least my car insurance isn’t as high. Then, nestled amidst the BMWs and Mercedes’ I spied a Porsche 911. Could it be the same guy? I toyed with the idea of returning to the dining room to see if it was. Hey buddy. I’m back!” No, that would be immature, impolite, and borderline nuts.
But I am sometimes all those things.
You have not lost your touch with restaurant stories… from all those years ago. Thanks for continuing to write and share…
Always a great read—-
The highest average chance of getting good service is at the bar, in my experience.
Thanks for writing, Waiter!
Great story. Fun!