Side Dish

Wassail I Ale
Christmas isn't just about gifts, fruitcake, and TV specials. It's about drinking, too. Now, there's nothing wrong with eggnog -- except that it's basically uncooked custard and a complete waste of brandy. So when Harry thinks of winter grog, it's beer that comes to mind.

It's become a tradition of sorts with my crew to posse up and head to the Toronado the day that bar gets Anchor Xmas on line -- and this year, we didn't stop at that. Toronado, open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, has more than 15 seasonal brews available from around the world, and the bartenders will pour you a taster before you commit. You don't have to stumble far to satisfy that third-pint food call either: The old storefront next door has been transformed into a little European wurst joint. Rosamunde Sausage Grill is run by ex-SuppenkYche barkeep Jeff Howald, who offers seven different transcontinental dogs, plus daily specials, and not a tofu pup in sight. Let's hope he can find some MYnchener Weisswurst for brunch. Now, where did I put my lederhosen?

And A-One, And A-Two
The guys from Cha Cha Cha wanted to open a place in the Mission. The guys from Cha Cha Cha wanted to restore the old McCarthy's Bar to its previous splendor. The guys from Cha Cha Cha did both, and the results are somewhat confusing.

McCarthy's opened in 1900, a good old Irish drinking hole with a huge oval bar and individual tables featuring call lights for the stewardess. The place served a cup of beans with every drink. Now it's serving new potatoes with chili aioli and plantains. You see the confusion? The restored bar feels more like something out of St. Elmo's Fire than a historic landmark. It needs roughing up -- and while you're at it, put in some ventilation -- the place smells of fried calamari. Finally, work on a menu that fits the spot. GM is Paul Robben, late of the Cafes Ace and Atlas. He'll whip it into shape, I hope.

A Quiet Table Near the Band
Moonshine, a Prohibition-era-style supper club, is opening up in the old Vanessi's, across the alley from Enrico's in North Beach. Which forces Harry to point out that though the whole supper-club thing that's been going on in town over the past five years is elegant and chic, it's generally poorly thought out.

The concept seems so effortless in all those classic movies -- people being led directly to a table near the stage, where they can not only hear each others' witty banter, but even whisper a request to the bandleader for a dance between courses. Fred and Ginger, though, never had to languish at an arid table five rows back, waiting 15 minutes for a lousy drink.

Restaurateurs find themselves in a contradictory position: Having live entertainment in your space is a sure draw, but how do you turn your tables when the four-top near the front is on their third round of coffee and just won't vacate? You need either an unobtrusive combo in the corner -- as at Enrico's or Moose's -- or a cozy clubby place in which people can nosh a bit between sets, as at Cafe Du Nord.

I don't know how they did it in the movies, but the failure of two such spots in the city -- Julie's Heart and Soul and the long-beleaguered Coconut Grove -- leads me to believe that we're doing something wrong.

Winter Wonderland; Or, Harry's Christmas Cheer
Much as I hate crowds and crying babies, there's nothing quite like a stroll downtown right now. Hit up Tiffany's for your honey: The mob'll turn green when they see that virility-signalling light-blue bag in your mitts. After a quick Manhattan at Campton Place, head over to Belden Place for a warm bite. The city is lucky to have all these fine restaurants -- Plouf, Bastille, Tiramisu, etc. -- in one nice little package of an alleyway -- reminds me of SoHo.

Steve Aleshire at Mecca says that Piaf's on Market has the best Christmas decorations, and, judging from the misty look in his eyes, I'll have to at least pop in for a visit -- right after I check out all the baby-bottle-laden conifers hanging upside down in the always-something-to-look-at Hamburger Mary's. Which, incidentally, is the perfect place for Bloody Marys after the New Year's bacchanal.

Kick the Habit
It's been a while since Harry last polished a SoCo with GM extraordinaire Peter Hochman -- I didn't even know that he's now smoke-free. Plus, he's been working out and he's looking good. We'll try to find a photo for all you groupies. In the meantime, Peter, accept our apologies for lumping you in with the lepers.

By Harry Coverte

Know something Harry doesn't? E-mail Coverte@aol.com and sweep the dirt out from under the rug.

 
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