“It’s like a small town over here,” Hood says. “When one of your customers doesn’t come in for a few days, you worry.”
At the Forest there’s a saying that applies to everyone, especially staff and regulars: You can’t come in if you have thin skin. Jacket and tie aren’t required, but a sense of humor is.
“The funniest thing about this place is seeing people trying to figure out where the bathrooms are,” Hood remarks. To get to them, you have to go outside and turn a corner. There’s a men’s room and a women’s room, like what you’d find at a service station. People don’t seem to mind.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and a regular customer sits in a booth, spooning small mouthfuls of chicken and stuffing, and reading a paper. Longtime waitresses Jo Garnett, Frances Laney and Hood reminisce about the neighborhood.
Laney got her start as a dancer at the Riverside, Hood explains. Laney shrugs off the praise. The club closed a long time ago, she says, she can’t recall quite when. It was the same for the fancy restaurant up the street, The Epicurean. As if hearing a bell, the customer looks up from his paper. Sooner or later the conversation is impossible to ignore. He joins in, appearing to know, as do the waitresses, how things around here happen.
He’s still storing some of the restaurant’s belongings for the owner, he says, even after more than 25 years. The women appear sympathetic not surprised by the news. “It’s like the meatloaf special,” Hood later explains. “Certain things are a given and this place is a phenomenon.” Lucky places like the Forest survive not merely on comfort food and hearty drinks, but on memories that stand tall as pines. —Brandon Walters
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