Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Essays in Restauarant Debauchery, number two

The Perfect Storm

Looking back I’m completely amazed that I lived through the period of my life spent residing in Chicago. My early twenties were a complete blur, and I’m glad they’re over, but they made for some pretty ridiculous stories. That’s actually about all they made for, because I certainly don’t have much else to show for them..
This particular experience occurred at a restaurant that, for the sake of the story, I’ll refer to as “Steaks & Drugs.” It was a sprawling and wildly expensive steakhouse, a favorite haunt for celebrities and Chicago’s “beautiful people.” A massive circular “caviar bar” dominated the middle of the dining room, and the ceiling would cycle through different colored lights throughout the evening. There was a main bar and lounge, plus a nightclub upstairs. We would have thirteen servers working on a busy Friday, each equipped with a personal bus-person. There was a separate service bar in the kitchen, a full staff of food-runners, and even a group of “polishers.”
What does all this mean? It means that we made ridiculous amounts of money without doing shit. I even trained my bus-person to use the computers, so I could just have him wait on people who pissed me off. It was the world’s easiest and most profitable job, which of course meant I would abuse my privileges and fuck it all up.
I was on a double when three men came in for a late lunch, and I volunteered to stay and wait on them because I recognized them as brokers from the Stock Exchange. These people are right up there with strippers as my favorite types to wait on, as they live fast and spend money recklessly. The three guys proceed to drink a bottle of Krug Champagne to start and eventually racked up a $900 lunch tab. They pour me a few drinks and tell me that they’re coming back in with 6 of their friends that night, and ask if I’d like to wait on them. They tipped me $300 on their lunch and headed out.
They came back that evening and, as expected, completely threw down. They hammered through three magnums of Cristal at $700 each, and then moved on to ridiculous and over-priced California Cabernet (Caymus S.S., Bryant Family, Araujo, and Dalle Valle). They went straight for the caviar, then lobster, and then the big steaks – pretty stereotypical “guys out showing off” kind of shit. Their bill came to something like $5000, and they left me $1500 on that. With the enormous support staff comes an enormous tip-out, so I leave there with about $1100 cash for the day. I also failed to mention that when I opened the check presenter after they had paid (all cash, no less), I found a little baggy of coke neatly tucked in with my tip.
I head out for drinks with four girls that I work with in tow. We end up at a ridiculous club that I’m sure I enjoyed then but I would fucking hate now. I’m already pretty drunk and eventually one of my friends gives me the heads up that the black lights in the club are making the white powder all over my face really stand out. We end up meeting this guy, we’ll call him Dave, who is a friend of a friend and claims to be a “film producer.” I’m sure he was drawn to the group of girls I was with, and figured that if he got me on board to hang out then they would come right along.
This, of course, worked. The five of us end up back at his place, which I remember being pretty nice, and start pillaging his bar. I motion him into the kitchen, where I take out my bag of blow and offer him some. He gives me a funny look, and then opens up one his drawers and pulls out what is, to this day, the largest brick of coke I’ve ever seen. It’s the size of a small shoebox and packed in what looks like bubble wrap.
“I think I’ve got it covered” he says as he reaches his hand in and grabs a fistful that he plops down on a mirror. I follow him like a puppy back into the living room and proceed to blow rails like a madman, ignoring everyone else for the next five hours. I think I tried to get the group’s attention at one point because I had cut up a bunch of twelve inch lines and was trying to get people to “race.” Finally, one of my friends realizes that It might be a good idea to get me out of there on my feet rather than an ambulance. I’m told we said goodbye, and were on our way..
I don’t remember what neighborhood we were in, or why the fuck we didn’t take a cab, but I definitely remember what happened next. The crew had now been reduced to three, and as we started walking we passed a fire station. I’m not exactly sure who had this idea, but someone suggested that if you asked for a tour, they had to oblige you. Turns out that if you have two really hot girls with you, this is actually true. So here I am, my nose running un-controllably, holding their fucking purses for them while they go down the fire pole, sit in the fire trucks, and flirt with the firemen. I come to the realization of how utterly ridiculous we must look, dressed in all black (work clothes), and reeking of booze at this random fucking fire station in some random neighborhood.
By the time I get home it’s around two in the afternoon, and I’m still pretty high, so I decide to go to the liquor store for more wine. The only problem is that I was scheduled to work at 4, and now I was committed to staying up and going in really fucked up with no sleep. I make it there, and immediately have someone deliver me another bag of coke so I could at least maintain and hopefully get my second wind. Miraculously I recover ok, and I proceed to wait on a large private party by myself. They were actually really cool, and were sharing their wine with me the whole time, but my downfall came shortly before they left. They were doing shots called “statues of liberty,” where you dip your hand in Sambuca, light your hand on fire, hold it up, do the shot, and then blow out the fire. The sugar coats your hand so it doesn’t hurt, but when they convinced me to do one it was the shot itself that was the final nail in my coffin.
My next memory was waking up in my bed, still in my waiter uniform, with pens and check presenter still in it. I have very little recollection of anything, and I frantically call work. Turns out it was 5:19 a.m., so nobody answered. I passed back out, and found out what happened the next day: apparently I did my check out, and then started throwing crumpled up twenty dollar bills at my busser.
“Yeah, you probably threw about three hundred bucks at him. Then you disappeared, and we wondered if we’d ever see you again.” My manager actually seemed to think the whole thing was pretty funny, which is yet another reason that I love the restaurant business. He did add a "don't do it again," though.
I had a big breakfast and drank myself back to sleep to take the edge off. Later I assess the financial damage, which isn’t too bad all things considered. The situation improves two weeks later when I find a rolled up hundred dollar bill in the corner of my room..


  1. If I was a dude, I would paint a painting of you and hang it over my fireplace. The painting would look curiously like your facebook avatar.

  2. you scare me. how'd you end up in Portland?

  3. Amazing. I think I may know which restaurant you are speaking of. I applied there when I lived in Chicago. I now live in Portland as well.

  4. Anonymous - I grew up here.

    Spinster - hmmmm... and what restaurant might that be?

  5. Crazy! Your life in Chicago was certainly -- different -- than mine.

  6. I don't remember the name of it. I do remember it was probably the worst interview I have ever given. The manager was a total dick. I didn't get the job.

  7. You grew up here! Not sure how old you are but what do you remember as the best places to eat 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago?

  8. Ok, so it was N9NE steakhouse in Chicago.


    Ok, what I remember from back in the day (that I enjoyed)

    1. Perfetto
    2. Mazza
    3. I used to like Maria's, when I was in high school
    4. Aubergine
    5. Bella Bella
    6. Port Bakehouse
    7. Michaela's
    8. Go-Go burger
    9. Bandol
    10. Scales
    11. Hu-Shang's
    12. Fresh Market Pasta

    Many of these choices are based on nostalgia, as well as great food memories. If I think of more I'll let you know..

  9. Man, you sure got a lot heavier since then.

  10. Exhilerating, I feel hungover and robbed of innocence.

  11. Ha! Yeah, the lifestyle definitely caught up with me.....

  12. Thanks for sharing your Portland food memories. Was Fresh Market Pasta on Exchange Street? Was there something sickly good about the over-steamed pasta in steam tables? What was Mazza and where was it? I'm always interested in the old memories of restaurants in Portland.

  13. Mazza was great because of they made the martinis in town.


  14. Fucking great story Giuseppe - I was sitting here crying.

    Nothing has changed much - look what I found on a yelp review dated last Friday:

    "Our server was fantastic, to the point where my co-worker actually tried to request him for the party we were having there on Friday night. If Bruno is your server, you will have a great meal and a great time, for sure."