If I had to think of one thing that’s different about adult life in my generation as opposed to my parents’, it would be…well, about a million things. But today I’m thinking about restaurants.
My parents went out to eat only occasionally, more often as they got older and started hanging with my dad’s gang of handball buddies, but as I recall, going to a restaurant was still a dress-up-and-shine-your-shoes deal for the most part. Fast food, a daily fact of many of today’s children’s lives, was fairly rare for me, something my mom treated me to when dad was out of town on business. We went to Arthur Treacher’s, the Original Fish & Chips. (If you’re old enough to remember Arthur Treacher, you’ve definitely entered the Bifocals Years. Of course, I can sing the jingle.)
I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about restaurants lately, except that I was trying to decide which was the worst restaurant I’ve ever eaten in. There have been so many contenders, but I finally settled on one that was, top to bottom, a disaster. The concept was bad, the decor was bad, the food was bad, the service was bad, and everything else? Bad.
A little background: For years, there was a restaurant on West Fifth Avenue in Columbus called Presutti’s Villa. It was a typical ’50s-era Italian place, checked tablecloths and chianti-bottle candles and spaghetti and meatballs. If there wasn’t a Venetian gondola scene painted on the wall, it sure would have fit right in. It was beloved by its neighbors and customers, the sort of place you’d think would be there forever.
But one night they had a fire. And the restaurant never reopened as Presutti’s. There was a period of mourning, and then remodeling crews started work, and before anyone knew it, the place had reopened, but not as Presutti’s.
As JoAnn’s Chili Bordello.
At first I thought this was simply a spectacularly bad one-off, some coke-crazed sex addict’s idea of fun, sort of a proto-Hooter’s. The slogan was something like “17 varieties of chili served in an atmosphere of sin,” and was the cue for everything else. The place was decked out as a Hollywood version of a New Orleans whorehouse — flocked wallpaper, red everything — and the waitresses wore underwear. Really. Merry Widow corsets with garters, stockings and panties. Honestly, I think Playboy Bunnies wore more, and they were mostly serving drinks. The idea of eating actual food, which doesn’t have the disinfecting properties of a stiff drink, served by a woman whose junk and all its filth are covered by only a thin film of polyester, well — someone probably thought it was sexy, but I just thought it was gross.
Anyway, at first I thought it was just a single bad idea. I was wrong. Googling around, I see it was part of a chain. A chain! Someone opened one and thought, let’s do this again! I’m speechless, even as I acknowledge that this fact means some have left documentary evidence behind.
I ate there once. The waitress’s corset was green, and I have rarely been so embarrassed for another soul in my life. The chili was barely average, but the place had an ambitious dessert menu, so I tried to salvage the night with a piece of chocolate cake. A really exquisite chocolate cake is hard to do, but a truly bad one is almost equally hard. (I mean, it’s chocolate cake.) It was called Better Than Sex Cake. I think the restaurant critic for one of the dailies described it best when he said: “It isn’t.”
Anyway, it lasted longer at its other locations than it did in Columbus, where it opened and closed pretty quickly. I hope this is a testimony to my hometown’s superior taste in eateries, but it probably has more to do with women not wanting to accompany their husbands and boyfriends to a place with that much cleavage.
OK, the bloggage: Slate takes an entertaining look at that journalism perennial, the bus plunge: Bus plunges had become an inside joke, with editors scouting the wires for new ones. “If a bus fell anywhere, they would cut that story from the wire and send it to the copy desk and put it in the paper, whereas earlier perhaps they wouldn’t have,” Siegal says. It was no longer a matter of how badly shorts were needed. “They became newsworthy in and of their own right because it was amusing to get the expression ‘bus plunge’ into the paper as often as possible.”
I liked this part: At the Times, the shortest stories—a one-line hed and a single paragraph of copy—were called “K-heds.” “The great challenge was to edit those things as short as they could be and still have them make sense,” Siegal says. Great acclaim came to the editor who could artfully reduce wire stories to their absolute essence. One of Siegal’s favorite K-heds, which ran in the Times in the 1950s, read in its entirety:
Most snails are both male and female, according to the Associated Press.
I’m impressed the Times had a special name for what everyone else called fillers. Fillers were on their way out when I entered the business in 1979, but still, every Friday the wires moved a few stories that consisted of nothing but hermaphroditic snail factoids, and if you had time, one of the duties in our department was to slap little heads on them and typeset a bunch in three column widths, to be used whenever a story came up short. I know editors who collected them, which is one reason they can be such pains in the ass when you play Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy! opposite them.
In Columbus, we ran a one-line filler about some museum that hung a Matisse painting upside-down for a year before someone noticed. The headline: “Matisse hung wrong.” Another carried the headline: “Jaguars fear dogs.” The text: “Jaguars are afraid of dogs.”
Go ahead, laugh. But that was a time when circulation was strong. Chili, anyone?