Decadence is a difficult word to use since it has become little more than a term of abuse applied by critics to anything they do not yet understand or which seems to differ from their moral concepts. — Ernest Hemingway
An effort to expand, to break out of that comfortable area that is easy and inevitably mundane, has guided me here.
I sit at the Blue Goat, one of Richmond’s many new restaurants or gastro-publike attempts. Relaxed, cushy affairs where the drinks are crafted with care and the food is a concerted effort to win the hearts of the so-called Richmond food intelligentsia. Or, located at Grove and Libbie, aimed at any of the upwardly mobile 30-somethings who live nearby and are with newborn or two, which seems to be almost everyone in that area.
Offal — kill the pig and eat every goddamn piece of it — is the rage, and the Blue Goat isn’t wasting any of the scraps.
Papa would have loved this place. He tended to have a penchant for dead animals.
Try the pig ears, the oxtail … the rabbit pâté? All good, but it’s just filler for me. At heart, I’m a drinker. A damn good drinker.
Nicole “Raise Hell” Riedel, the bartender and a sometime fellow miscreant (on Twitter @headplaygirl), makes a nerdy craft cocktail with the best. She also can make a perfect Bombay Sapphire martini, which is the only skill a bartender really needs.
I say, “Very dry, not bone dry, but damn close.”
She barely rinses the glass with vermouth. It’s teeth-shatteringly cold.
Jake Barnes would have approved. Frederic Henry would have called this martini honest and true. If a martini can be unflappable under fire, this martini would have been.
Two more bowls of sweet, deliciously soft gin. I feel good. I want to shoot a rhino. I want to see Mount Kilimanjaro. Hell, let’s go to Afton Mountain! Is there big game up there amidst the impenetrable fog?
Say what you will about the Hemingway fans, the Kerouac backers, Mailer, Sebastian Junger, the loyal followers of the insanely virile Harry “the Hat” Kollatz Jr.! They’re real men, and we, lowly betas, need someone to idolize.
I leave the Blue Goat for Stella’s, another splashy addition to the restaurant scene. I blast Frank Sinatra. I ooze testosterone.
Again, only the slim — we can afford fake breasts and luxury SUVs — 30-something set seems to flood the restaurant. They pack the place. I see a few strollers. I shudder at the thought of fighting this crowd for a drink and a space at the bar.
And so the retreat from Caporetto, the Museum District — or whatever the no-man’s land is called between Willow Lawn and the Boulevard, begins. I travel toward the Fan proper — my own sad little Montparnasse. Rolling down Cary Street, I pull into the sketchy BP station. I’m sure 1920s Paris had its share of gas stations where drugs were sold openly, maybe?
I buy smokes, fend off the crack whores, scurry through the last toehold in the area that gentrification has yet to touch. And I wash up at Selba. Physically not far removed from the BP station, but mentally another, beautiful world.
The bar manager, Lauren Cooke, suggests the ginger mojito.
Now Hemingway was no stranger to Cuba. He loved taking out the Pilar on a Nazi-submarine-hunting excursion with the fellas and getting shit bombed on super-sweet drinks that now generally are considered female libations. He was a mixed bag of tough guy and sensitive soul. As am I. In addition to hating Nazis, I really enjoyed “The Twilight Saga.”
The mojito is good, damn good. It’s even better when Lauren mentions that they have a smoker’s lounge in the restaurant.
I don’t question the decision to merge healthy, locally-sourced meals with an open invitation to lounge and slowly tar one’s lungs. I inhale, I exhale, I sip, I repeat.
It’s nice to try new things. To move about and talk to random people. To spend money that you probably shouldn’t but still have a hell of a time in the process.
My Blue Goat, my Selba, my “any bar where I don’t work” — and I’ve worked at seven of them in this city — are like Hem’s Paris, his Cuba, his Key West, his … Idaho.
Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback contributes to Mixology magazine in Germany, tweets @jackgoesforth and blogs at jackgoesforth.blogspot.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.