Chili and a g-string.

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?

Posted at 10:01 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' |

25 responses to “Chili and a g-string.”

  1. Kirk said on November 14, 2006 at 10:14 am

    i never made it to joann’s chili bordello, but in the ’80s, on a spring training trip to florida, i ate in three rib joints in three different cities and the waitresses in each were dressed about like the those in joann’s. the places weren’t part of a chain. i began to think it must be kind of a uniform for serving barbecued ribs in florida, sort of like everyone wearing paper hats and bow ties in fast-food burger joints.

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  2. James said on November 14, 2006 at 10:50 am

    Cripes! I had almost forgotten that place. I was living in Columbus then, working in The Frame Station, basically across the street from that place.

    I think I actually went there. They served something very similar to Cincinnati Chili, and the waitresses were kinda skanky.

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  3. Dorothy said on November 14, 2006 at 11:19 am

    One more reason to be thankful that I do NOT like chili.

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  4. ashley said on November 14, 2006 at 11:26 am

    A New Orleans whorehouse?

    Just curious, how would they dress in a Cleveland whorehouse? A Detroit whorehouse? An Akron whorehouse?

    BTW, Arthur Treacher is kicking ass in South Florida. Probably all the yankees that moved down there when they got too old to shovel snow.

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  5. nancy said on November 14, 2006 at 11:31 am

    Just curious, how would they dress in a Cleveland whorehouse? A Detroit whorehouse? An Akron whorehouse?

    Oh, that’s easy: As these are chilly northern cities, the whores would generally sit around the parlor waiting for tricks in somewhat warmer clothing. Long underwear, mittens, lots of polar fleece. You know.

    This is why warm, muggy New Orleans generally gets to set the trends for whorehouse-wear. And of course, Nola has better entertainment in the parlor, too.

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  6. John said on November 14, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    I remember Arthur Treachers, though I don’t remember the jingle. When we went out to dinner, it was usually Friday nights to Howard Johnson’s so my mother could get the fried clams.

    Does anyone remember Beefsteak Charlies? When I was a lad – late 70s, early 80s – they had all the shrimp you can eat and all the beer wine or sangria you can drink for something like 9 bucks. And the drinking age was 18. I vividly – okay, somewhat hazily – remember the sign on the tables saying the management reserves the right to cut off anyone. This prompted my very, very drunk friend Brian to become paranoid and repeat, over and over again: “They’re gonna resrive the right! They’re gonna reserve the right!”

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  7. Jason said on November 14, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Just curious, how would they dress in a Cleveland whorehouse? A Detroit whorehouse? An Akron whorehouse?

    Not sure about Detroit, but in Cleveland, they wear polyester leisure suits, and in Akron, they wear rubber and latex. (In Pittsburgh, they wear Steelers jerseys and stocking caps.)

    You’re a great crowd, I’ll be here all week, make sure to try the chili.

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  8. Danny said on November 14, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    John, I remember Beefsteak Charlies fondly from my highschool and college days. They had a deal that if you got dinner, you got all the salad bar shrimp you could eat 25 cent pitchers of beer. They were very popular in Maryland.

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  9. Dorothy said on November 14, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    I remember Arthur Treachers, and in Pittsburgh we had H. Salt Fish and Chips. My sister Chrissy and my brother Jim both had jobs there when they were in high school. Jim worked the fryer and had little burns up and down his arms from the hot oil.

    And John I remember Beefsteak Charlies, too. I don’t think I ever ate there, but the name is very familiar.

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  10. ashley said on November 14, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    I remember when I lived in Seattle, I was driving down Aurora with my boss. He asked “Did you see all those hookers?”


    “Right there! We just passed them”.

    They were wearing grunge clothing and such. I didn’t think they were hookers — I just thought they were homeless.

    And Jason…they only wear that in Cleveland if they’re wearing a “full Cleveland”. Reminds me of the time I went to a strip club in Cleveland to see Marilyn Chambers. Memorable. Also why I never went into gynecology.

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  11. Rory on Lawn Guyland said on November 14, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Ahhhh, Beefsteak Charlie’s. Worked my way thru college as a bartender at several on Lawn Guyland (Long Island, for you Communications Majors.)

    We did indeed serve unlimited, free draft beer, wine or Sangria in pitchers with dinner. The beer was basically panther-piss, Piels or Schlitz or some other $20-a-keg crap. (Hey, it was FREE; whadda ya want?)

    And the Sangria? I still remember the recipe; Half a pitcher of red jug wine, fill it the rest of the way with 7-Up from the soda gun, garnish with sliced limes and oranges, and serve with a wooden spoon. Voila: Sangria! Heh.

    But the waitresses were some of the best folks I ever worked with. The other bartenders used to ignore them at the Service Bar in favor of the customers sitting at the bar waiting for a table. But I’d always jump to help “the girls.” The faster they served, the faster they’d turn over their tables, and the more tips they’d make. And they ALWAYS kicked back a few bucks to the bartender who helped them out. Me.

    Good times, and I always ate well, as I’d send drinks back to the kitchen during the night for the cooks–Management had no idea.


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  12. nancy said on November 14, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    I thought it was a long-standing tradition in the restaurant business that the cooks were entitled to drink all the draft beer they wanted (within reason, obviously) in the course of a shift. Especially the grill guys, as they sweat so much in the heat. When I dated a waiter, I spent a lot of time sitting at the bar waiting for him to get done, and I recall the cooks coming out with pitchers for refills, and no one saying a word about it.

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  13. John said on November 14, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    My summer jobs in college were all in restaurants. My recollection is the kitchen folks got beer after the night’s cooking was over, more or less while they were cleaning up. That would explain them getting beer while you were waiting for your boyfriend.

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  14. mary said on November 14, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    You’re gonna get spoiled… we will treat you right
    You’re gonna get spoiled at Beefsteak Charlies tonight…

    I worked at a Holiday Inn in Golden, Colorado when I was in college. I tended bar in the Holidome, a big plexiglass dome over the swimming pool and astroturf putting green. No skanky garments, though. Black trousers, Black vest, white shirt and bowtie. I made great tips from dads who got snockered while the kiddies went swimming.

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  15. Jennifer said on November 14, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    In northern environs, it seems the patchwork,rabbit fur coat is de rigeur… but I guess that’s only if they’re outside.

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  16. mary said on November 14, 2006 at 8:24 pm

    When I first moved to LA, I thought a lot of people who were not hookers were. They dress differently here.

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  17. Danny said on November 14, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    And a parallel axiom:

    The first time Eddie Murphy visited west Hollywood he thought a lot of people who were not women were. They dress differently there too.

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  18. alex said on November 15, 2006 at 12:47 am

    Danny, you just want to let him off easy. He was into what he was into and just got busted. Danny Bonaduce too.

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  19. ashley said on November 15, 2006 at 2:33 am

    And Hugh Grant…

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  20. Danny said on November 15, 2006 at 11:49 am

    Alex, I agree and am not trying to let him off easy. Did you not see my use of the html irony tag? The joke just works better that way.

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  21. Cathy D. said on November 15, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    Haven’t “fillers” morphed into “news of the weird” that almost every paper and web site carries?

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  22. Dick Walker said on November 15, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    Late getting to this. Orlando had a JoAnn’s Chili Bordello twenty years ago. I didn’t think the chili was too bad. Sometimes it was served in canteloupe halves for an interesting touch.

    But it was a little more embarrassing than erotic in its costumery. Underwear is exactly what it was.

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  23. Hap said on January 22, 2007 at 10:15 am

    I ate at the JoAnn’s Chili Bordello location in the College Park neighborhood of Orlando many time while it was in business.

    What a lot of the people posting messages seem to overlook is the fact that they served some really good chili. Everyone seems too hung-up over the costumes worn by the waitresses, and overlooks the food. They had a wide variety of chili styles of varying degrees of heat from which to select.

    I will admit that it was a lot of fun to take someone who had never been there before and watch their expression when they first beheld their server.

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  24. doug said on February 6, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    WOW, I got to this way late! We were talking about JoAnn’s today so I Googled it just for kicks and found this.

    I saw one posting about JoAnn’s that had a picture of the 2nd Jacksonville location (it was in a yellow one story building that started it’s life as a house). The picture of “JoAnn” however looked nothing like the real person. Trust me, I grew up with her. Back in the 80’s a guy named Leonard and JoAnn went into biz together in Orange Park, FL. They closed that location and moved to the yellow building close to down town Jacksonville, near the trendy San Marco area. The food was actually really good. Kato, the chef was a master at making ordinarry food taste great. Usually JoAnn hired good looking women, but there are times when you just need a warm body to get the job done. This place was PACKED during the week at lunch and after work (with men AND women). When they lost the lease on the yellow building and moved to a fairly seedy part of down town Jacksonville (where there is little to no parking, but is “bum-wealthy”) they lost most of their customers. JoAnn went on to manage a private catering business based on a yacht at the (then) Hilton Hotel on the river and Leonard sold some franchises. JoAnn was the brains and Kato was the talent. When JoAnn left it was doomed to fold every where!

    There. A little history lesson about chili and “whorehouses”.

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  25. Franz said on June 22, 2007 at 8:26 am

    I ate at the Colege Park location several times. They had really great chili. Does anyone know where I could get a copy of the recipes?

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