Thursday, July 1, 2010

Essays in Restaurant Debauchery, number four

Holiday in the Sun

This is one of the many stories of my life that I feel better having in writing, because it would be a shame to forget. It also amazes me that I can remember any of it at this point.

One of the people most responsible for the way I am today was my friend Andrew, a 30 year old, very gay, Vietnamese man whom I met when I was 21 and working in a shitty Chicago nightclub called “Pasha.” Andrew worked up the street at a much cooler venue, which we’ll call “Caviar & Blow,” that I used to frequent before and after my shifts. He became my mentor of sorts, teaching me the way to live an excessive lifestyle in the most decadent fashion and how to deal with the people I met along the way. He was the ultimate entertainer and introduced me to the joys of ethnic neighborhoods, Champagne, and beautiful Asian women. My tolerance combined with his know-how made for a very dangerous combination...

When I finally got tired of Pasha and told them to fuck off, Andrew got me a job at Caviar & Blow, officially entering me into one of the most ridiculous periods of my entire life.

“C&B” was a nightclub with a Champagne list that read like a novel. Each house had it’s own page, with bottles as rare as 1979 Krug represented. Caviar had it’s own section of the menu, and we used to present it in lavish crystal serving dishes with all of the traditional garnishes. Half bottles of vodka frozen in ice made a nice alternative accompaniment instead of Champagne. The bar had two floors, with the downstairs, referred to as “the boudoir,” having several booths with curtains that could be drawn (so you could have some privacy while you fuck or do drugs or both) and a large Victorian-style bed in the center of the room.
It was the kind of place where you would be working on a very busy night and your boss would yank you into the office, declaring that he had poured out way too much blow on his desk and that you would need to finish it – now. This was also the same person whom I eventually had a cocaine-induced threesome with involving a girl I was dating at the time (who did S&M porn, but she’s a another story). There were always coke dealers present, and the bar was so out of control that once I caught a busboy slugging Hennessey Richard (Cognac that was $275.00 a shot) out of a paper cup.

Clientele while I worked there included Prince, Jimmy Page, The Cure, Stone Temple Pilots, and Simon LeBon from Duran Duran (who had a most memorable visit, when he fucked two twin sisters on the bed after-hours downstairs in front of everyone, after walking around the bar in his underwear playing the guitar). Others included this guy Mark who was one of the first salesmen of Viagra. He used to purchase ridiculously expensive bottles just for the staff to drink, which is how I drank vintage Salon for the first time (the second was with the pastry chef at another restaurant, when we stole a 1985 from the wine cooler and then drank it straight out of the bottle while driving up Lakeshore Drive blaring Motley Crue's "Too Fast for Love" on the stereo).

"C&B" has since closed, last I heard my former bosses had sold it to two idiots who had run it into the ground within a few months. One of the last incidents reported back to me was that my friend Brett, who I had worked with at another restaurant for a long while, had become the "head chef" there. We had waited tables together, and had gotten along because he was from Boston so we felt like we had some kind of bond, even though he was kind of a fucking idiot. He was randomly one of the people who ended up at my house the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, because we had all been scheduled to work that morning and ended up closing the restaurant and watching the news while getting drunk all day. Anyway, apparently during his second week as chef at "C&B," he had gone to the bathroom, shot up a bunch of heroin, and died on the toilet. The rumor is that they took him right out the back door and continued service, but who knows if that's true or not.

Now that this background is provided, I will tell you about this one particular Sunday…

I had just finished a few fairly profitable days at work, and had managed to stash about $1400 cash in my nightstand even after partying all week. As I pondered the idea of the doing something responsible with the money, like starting a savings account or taking a trip home to Maine, my phone rang. It was Andrew, seeing if I wanted to join a crew for late lunch at a French-Vietnamese spot in our neighborhood called “Pasteur.” I agreed, and for some reason decided to put all $1400 in my pocket before I headed out, not knowing what I was getting myself into.

Pasteur was a cool spot that was located in the North Side of Chicago, but when you walked in you felt like you were in what I can only describe as an “elegant jungle.” Andrew was there with a couple of other restaurant queens, Paulie and Wayne, who ran an Italian restaurant in Evanston. We hammered through three bottles of Veuve Cliquot with our lunch, and proceeded to roll to a nearby bar to discuss plans for the evening.

As darkness fell we headed over to Wicker Park to eat at a trendy new sushi restaurant called “Mirai.” It was here that I learned for the first time that the sake should be enjoyed chilled, and that the stuff they served warm was the sake-equivalent of white zinfandel. A couple bottles later, we are definitely in rare form and decide to make a run to get some blow. Paulie’s connection is in a sketchy neighborhood on the south side of the city, and he refers to her as “Mama.” I could see why when I met her, a large Hispanic woman with two kids watching cartoons on the couch of her large apartment. She was very kind, and she doled out two golf ball-sized bags as if she were giving us fresh baked cookies.

After doing several bumps in the car, we arrive back to our neighborhood and begin to drink furiously at a cool, old-school bar known as “The Green Mill.” Very prominently displayed on the piano is a sign that says: “Al Capone used to drink here – often.” 4:00 a.m. arrives quickly and we transition to Paulie’s house for more drinks. At 6:00 a.m., Wayne proposes that we could go to Saugatuck, Michigan to hang out for a couple of days. This seems like a good idea so we pile into Paulie’s car, purchase a case of beer, and hit the road.

Saugatuck is a lot like Oquniquit, Maine. It’s a tourist-driven predominantly gay town, filled with quaint little shops and lots of outdoor bars. We arrive after a two and a half hour drive, and settle in at a hotel called ‘The Dunes,” that Wayne suggested because they have an amazing pool bar.

And right he was. I spent the entire day blowing rails in the bathroom and drinking probably about 15 Absolut Citron and lemonades poolside. I remember wearing these ridiculously large Helmut Lang aviator sunglasses, and the bartender, who was becoming quite friendly, giving me the heads-up that I had coke all over my nose and maybe I should go in the pool for a bit…

The bag of drugs is still going fairly strong, and we decide to head out to town to check out a few bars. It’s now about 2:00 pm, and we’ve been up for a very long time now, so I’m not sure the tourists were very impressed with our behavior. Luckily, we were throwing around enough cash with the bartenders that no one bothered to “deal” with the four crazed demons from the big city.

We finally head back to the hotel around 5:00 p.m. for a 45-minute “disco nap” before waking up and going out to dinner at one of the higher-end restaurants in town. The nap did little for my sobriety, and I barely remember the meal. I do remember drinking red zinfandel with steak au poivre, and thinking it was good. The food definitely has slowed us all down, but we pull it together to go drink some tequila and finish off the bag, before eventually passing out in a heap by 11:00 p.m.

The ride back early in the morning goes well with the warm beers that were left in the car, and I decide not to bother assessing my financial situation until I get back. I arrive home around 8:30 a.m., and decide to have a few beers in my sunroom to aid me in crashing into a deep sleep for about 17 hours. My roommate wakes up at this time, takes one look at me, and just says: “drug bender?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “It was way more fun than opening a savings account.”