Eating at the bar in a restaurant is like going on a blind date, but with far less chance of rejection.
While staying in Sacramento — no, not for pleasure, but thank you for asking — I had seen signs for Joe’s Crab Shack in the touristy “Old Sacramento” part of town, which is Disneyland’s Main Street with boardwalks and older buildings.
Joe’s sits along the Sacramento River, which, like most rivers, is not notably a source for ocean seafood, but I ignore such trivia when I’m hungry. The customers were packed in like sardines, which are not on the menu. I asked for a table for one, and was politely told that I could sit at the bar. There was one empty bar stool.
Bar etiquette requires that the person wanting to sit down ask the person on the adjacent stool, “Excuse me, is this seat taken?” The fellow soon to be my next stool neighbor glanced at me with a look that said, “Do you see anybody on the stool?” but only said aloud, “Nope,” in a tone that clearly expressed his disappointment that I was not Sofia Vergara.
There are two kinds of bar stool strangers: the kind who like to talk and the kind who want to utterly ignore your existence. (The same is true on airplanes.) My new acquaintance was in the silent group, but was nearly done with his meal and was soon replaced by a talker, who, like me, was not Sofia Vergara. She was a very nice, middle-aged lady whose Old Sacramento souvenirs marked her as a tourist.
She began with the required question. I replied that the stool was “all yours.” Thus began an intense discussion of wide-ranging issues:
She: “Are you done with your menu?”
Me: “Yes, I’ve already ordered. Here you go.”
She: “What kind of crab did you order?”
In fact, I had ordered salmon after observing the mess my former stool-mate made, and realizing that I was still wearing a business suit. (Note to self: Always wear Levi’s and a T-shirt when dining at a crab shack.) I explained that I would have ordered the stone crab, but didn’t want to pay for dry cleaning.
“I want the Dungeness crab,” she replied, unconcerned that her souvenir Old Sacramento T-shirt might get crabby, and knowing that if it did, dry cleaning wouldn’t be needed. “Do you like that wine you ordered?”
I did, and said so, offering her a sip in my best Italian gentleman style, though forgetting that many people are reluctant to swap spit with a total stranger during a first meal together. She politely demurred, asking the barkeep to get her a glass of “what he’s having.”
“Do you also want the salmon?” he asked.
“No, thanks. I’ll have the Dungeness.”
The rest of the meal went the same way, with polite “What brings you town?” and similar inconsequential information being exchanged, and an occasional, “Please pass the salt.”
It was nice not to be eating alone, for a change.
Perhaps a little patience will help? After the 3rd Gimlet, Rosie O'Donnel might look like the new Sofia Vergara....
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