By Ian S. Port
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If you watch the American version of The Office, you know that Michael, the clueless boss played by Steve Carell, likes Chili's restaurant. He always orchestrates celebrations there, bringing the important clients he wants to impress (the really big clients get to join him at Benihana). I'm surprised that the show's writers didn't come up with Red Lobster as Michael's venue of choice, because, if I remember correctly, a certain kind of folk I knew in the Midwest thought that place was très chic. "Woo-hoo! I just graduated from Western Career College! Katie, bar the door, cuz I'm-a gettin' the surf 'n' turf!"
These chain restaurants are the perfect metaphor for Carell's character: They try too hard to please everyone, wanting you to feel like a fiesta is in the making as you speak (can you guess which film I am quoting from here? Free basket of chips at Chevy's if you can!), and they lack any real imagination or innovation in their menus. Okay, maybe that last part is debatable. I mean, it took a keen mind to come up with something as progressive as the Bloomin' Onion.
But it's the bars in these places that really rule. Begin, if you will, with the drinks menu, which is usually a several-page full-color PR campaign for Cuervo Gold. The drinks look really fucking great, especially at Chevy's. I had a hankering for a frozen margarita and some free chips the other day, and I headed for the Chevy's on 20th Avenue in the Stonestown mall.
The bar at this one isn't entirely separate from the restaurant. The positive side to this is that you can watch the whole restaurant while you silently weep into your Corona; the negative is that you don't get to sit with as many regulars. I've found that in chain restaurants, bars that are their own separate room generally have many more working-class stiffs showing up at six for "the usual." Weird.
My bartender was enthusiastic and, I would venture to guess, excited about being promoted from busboy. I ordered a basic frozen margarita, the Chevy's Classic. Damn, it looked good, and so refreshing, with the frost on the glass like a hazy Alaskan morn. I ventured a taste. Hmm. Always, ALWAYS after that first sip, I feel really let down and have to remind myself to stick to beer next time. Chain restaurant margaritas have metallic aftertastes. I feel the powdered drink mix that they must use slowly melting into my tongue well after the dose has gone down my gullet. But you know what? I will come back again, and I will order another Chevy's Classic again because it looks so damn delish. The cycle of abuse will continue.
Let me take this time to describe what Chevy's looks like if you are someone who has never set foot in one (by the way, what the hell is your problem?): Picture a sputnik-shaped, festively colored piñata slowly waving in the west Tijuana wind. A mangy Chihuahua reels down an alleyway, sniffing the scattered remains of a late-night Taco Bell feast. Suddenly a multicolored taco truck whizzes around the corner, with "La Cucaracha" blaring, and seven or eight people dressed like toreadors hanging out the windows. They are singing "Happy Birthday" to you. They are clapping, but they are not smiling. You are left standing there, your new Chevy's sombrero slightly askew. You are now $40 poorer and have a strange metallic taste in your mouth.
So at this point you are probably asking yourself, "Jesus, if Chevy's is so lame, than why did she go there in the first place?" Good point. But dude, I really like lame shit. If you don't know that by now, you ain't been reading this here column very long. There's also a comfort in uniform sameness and predictability. Chevy's appeals to the autism in all of us. And finally, the peoplewatching just can't be beat. The place is loaded with the cast of The Office on any given day.
On this night, I would say that the Kevin character was at the end of the bar. He was a big, schlubby guy who probably wanted to escape his wife and drink and eat some forbidden carbs into the bargain. He was wearing a white button-up shirt that barely covered his butt crack, and black highwater pants. There were so many Jans in the place it wasn't even worth counting. That brings me to another reason I love these places. You can be somewhere as cosmopolitan as a San Francisco Chevy's and see people who could just as easily be sitting there in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
But my favorite thing about Chevy's happened just before I was about to order my second Chevy's Classic (d'oh!). A big ol' table of women had been whooping it up, downing "margies" in all the colors of the rainbow and, I would guess, making sex jokes and talking about co-workers.
Suddenly, here they came, slowly at first, and then with more giddy-up, the parade of cumpleanos caballeros bearing a sombrero and clapping with all the enthusiasm of a Lawrence Welk audience. I did what I always do, which is try to make out what the hell they are singing, but it always ends up sounding like a mishmash of punctuated vowel sounds ending in "Ole!"
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