Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ain't Nothin' But a Good Time

I had no plans for my birthday. Nada, zip, nothing.

No lunch plans, no dinner plans, no plans at all. It's one of those unfortunate years when my birthday gets rolled into the Memorial Day weekend and most everyone who cares about me is out of town.

Luckily, there was one exception and she graciously agreed to be my date for an evening of birthday revelry. Or, as she put it, "I'm in for the duration, of course. It's your birthday! I will need a catnap beforehand."

While she was napping, I was thrifting, scoring a dress worthy of Laugh In's JoAnne Worley with its vibrant colors and decolletage and talking to my parents, who are now semi-homeless after a massive sycamore tree crashed into their house during yesterday's storm.

But then I put myself together so I looked appropriately birthday-like and collected the sleepy-eyed one.

We began at Secco for traditional reasons. Growing up, birthdays meant you got to choose the dinner for the whole family and my choice was always cheeseburgers, much to the chagrin of my five sisters.

So, honoring that long standing tradition, I wanted my evening to begin with a cheeseburger.

As it turned out, it began with my friend gifting me with two Roses: Miraval and Beau Vignac, along with a box of sea salt caramel chocolate truffles from For the Love of Chocolate, as perfect a gift as could be had.

Once we got to Secco, I started with Muri Gries Lagrien Rose, recommended to me as a hearty enough Rose for a burger.

Then we dove into the menu, choosing delicately textured chicken liver mousse followed by Billy bread under a perfectly soft-cooked egg with white anchovies, not that either detracted from our ability to enjoy the grass-fed beef burger with cheddar, bacon and housemade pickles that comprised our final plate.

Some people will never understand a burger for your birthday dinner, but it's always worked for me. To hell with my sisters.

A couple of the servers asked about my birthday plans and when they heard we intended to finish in the east end to hear an '80s cover band, were obviously in awe.

In my family, birthdays meant you got to decide everything about the day and I wanted an experience.

Our next stop was Amour, almost completely full when we arrived, where we kept to the pink theme with a bottle of Chateua de Valcombe Rose that had my name on it while New Orleans music kept things lively.

When our server asked what our plans were for the evening, I explained we were headed eastward ho for the sake of the '80s, with shock and amazement ensuing on his part. My friend expressed reservations for the first time.

"We're not gonna do a 'Thelma and Louise,' are we?" my friend wondered aloud. That certainly wasn't the plan, but it was far too early to rule anything out.

The eating at Amour was terrific as always, with the onion and bacon tart (owner paul's Asaltian mother's recipe) and a stellar cold vegetable terrine, both fine pairings for the Valcombe.

I was trying to keep my eye on the time because I wanted to get to the east end and catch most of the band's first set, but we were having such fun talking and eating, all of a sudden it was time for dessert.

My friend had arranged for my sea salt caramel chocolate creme brulee to arrive with a candle in it and I was happy to be serenaded with "Joyeux Anniversaire" after an offer to have "Happy Bithday" sung to me in the style of Marilyn Monroe was rescinded.

From there,  I let out a slow breath and made a wish. Now if only it will come true.

My creme brulee came with a divine grapefruit sorbet that provided a pithy complement to the richness of the chocolate while my friend got a trio of sorbets and ended up deep in discussion with some nearby young women about vinegar and how to clean stains off couch cushions.

Not to be judgmental, but who wants to spend their birthday dinner listening to how to get god-knows-what kind of stain out of a cushion? Besides, we had places to go, cover bands to hear.

I instructed her to finish up her wine and dessert because this train was pulling out and she, like the good friend she is, swallowed accordingly.

Then it was off to what Style Weekly's reader poll dubbed the best bar in the east end, Cullen's Cove, on Mechanicsville Turnpike.

On arrival, we sashayed past the bikers and smoking contingent out front into the bar, making a pit stop at the ladies' room, where I overheard a woman say, "This is the only bar I've ever come to that has hot water." Tragic and yet so telling.

The band was on break when we walked in, so the dance floor was full of line dancers moving in synchronicity to bad music. I marveled at one woman doing it in pumps with 5" heels, but then she fell off the shoes and ended up splayed on the floor while the dancing went on around her.

Who wears 5" heels to a bar in Mechanicsville?

We found bar stools and ordered drinks, in my case 1800. It was the kind of place where, despite asking for it on the rocks, I was handed a lime and shaker of salt as if I was going to do a body shot with it.

A group of girls - feathered hair, studded belts, acid washed jeans-  next to us decided to pose for a group picture and every time they did, the bartender photo-bombed the shot, standing behind the group and pulling up his shirt to expose his fish belly white stomach for the camera.

As if that wasn't enough to set the tone for the evening, Sweet Justice soon took the stage and their first song was Journey's "Don't Stop Believin."

Holy crap, this was going to be a good night.

Now, understand, this was not my first time seeing a Sweet Justice show. Oh, no, I'd stumbled into them last September at the Sportsman's restaurant and lounge (also in the east end) and been mesmerized by the note for note replication of vintage '80s rock and hair metal songs by musicians who had actually played in bands back in the '80s.

What I'd promised my girlfriend tonight was not only that music but fans onstage blowing the band members' hair back as if they were in a perpetual cheesy '80s video.

Oh, she was impressed. More than once, we were asked what city girls like us were doing at the Cove.

The bass player was wearing a shirt that read, "White Trash," his thinning blond hair cascading over the shoulders of the shirt. It was even better than I had told her it would be.

The guy next to us at the bar wore a "Take Me Home" t-shirt, but he had an honest face, the bluest eyes and was soon chatting up my friend.

As it turned out, the erudite Calvin became our protector for the evening, warding off guys we didn't want talking to us (see: Neal and Javier). Like us, he was enraptured with how good the people watching was here.

Interesting as he was, he had a tough time distracting her once the band started playing Guns 'n Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine" and she reminded me that while the '80s wasn't her favorite decade of music, she had been there and did know every word to the decade.

It wasn't long after that I felt a hand on my elbow and a guy was asking me to dance. He looked a little too interested for my comfort, so I declined despite wanting to dance.

And in the "you think you know somebody" category, when Sweet Justice began singing "Pour Some Sugar On Me," my friend began singing along, in fine voice, telling me how many times she'd danced to this sexy song. "What, you didn't know I was a Def Leopard fan?" she asked nonsensically.

I won't lie, much as I enjoy a cheesy '80s cover band, I never need to hear ZZ Top's "La Grange" or "Hotel California" or any Styx ever again despite still being able to get behind a female singer covering Boston's "Peace of Mind."

It was all so much fun and I knew my friend was having just as good a time by the twinkle in her eye when she'd look at me after a particularly reminiscent song or comment from one of the guys talking to us.

Let's be real, though, not one woman in the room spoke to us all night, it was only men who bothered with the two women who stuck out like sore thumbs in the room full of east end boys and a couple of west end girls.

At one point we were deep in conversation with Calvin about alpha males and how he was assuming a stance that would discourage unwanted men from approaching us when I looked up and Sweet Justice's lead singer, Beth, was standing next to me, mic in hand, singing every word into my eyes.

It was a birthday present for the ages. I considered blowing on her to replicate her onstage fan but was too star struck to do anything but grin like an idiot and stare into her heavily-made up eyes.

The evening moved so quickly, one minute we were hearing Whitesnake and next thing I knew it was Pat Benatar's "Promises in the Dark" while Neal, the electrician, told me about his science fiction library.

But the crowning glory of it all was Poison to close out the evening before the lights came up and we were sent out into the night.

Don't need nothin' but a good time
How can I resist?
Ain't lookin' for nothin' but a good time
and it don't get better than this

No, it don't. Happy birthday to me. I'll never stop believin.

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