Monday, June 5, 2017

Company Charm

If you're going to hang out with someone who's still getting his feet wet in the Richmond scene, it only makes sense to offer up a wide variety of experiences.

If you're going to start by going to Garnett's for lunch, go late.

Even on a Sunday afternoon, regulars know that the more traditional lunch hours tend to be the busiest, but when you don't plan to arrive until 1:30ish, you can anticipate soon having the dining room to yourself. Completely.

You can also expect the servers to be gracious enough to tailor the soundtrack to the remaining guests' taste (or, perhaps, era? hmm...) and in this case, the result was vintage soul: Al Green, Marvin Gaye and the like. Whether the wine pours got more generous or they just felt that way because of the wide-ranging conversation, I really can't say.

In any case, it was an ideal setting for a discussion  of how some people can sleep to music or read and watch TV and the consensus, at our table at least, was that music and reading are all-encompassing and not meant to be multi-tasked.

If you're going to leave the city for the Lilly Pad Cafe on an afternoon when the Pinewood Boys are playing, you'd best bring your luck.

We came in from the back door because that's the new entrance now that they've fenced off the outside "patio" - and I use that word loosely because it's really more of a concrete slab - and joined the line at the bar waiting for service.

I couldn't have been more surprised when one of the bartenders recognized me and welcomed me back (we have a guitar player in common) or less surprised when the wine we ordered came straight out of a 1.5 liter bottle of Woodbridge Chardonnay.

Meanwhile, even though the chalkboard behind the bar clearly stated, "No buckets after 4!" I know I saw at least half a dozen fluorescent plastic buckets full of canned beer pushed across the bar and scooped up by thirsty/drunk customers headed outside for music.

It wasn't my first Lilly Pad rodeo or even my first time hearing live music there but never have I seen the place so thoroughly packed, with people occupying every square inch and plenty of them standing around for lack of a place to sit.

That's where the luck comes in and I wasn't shy about scouting for unused chairs at otherwise full tables and dragging them to a shady spot near the stage. Voila! The first time visitor I'd brought along now had a front row seat for the Pinewood Boys and a river view, although, like the musician that he is, he commented on the dobro being played before even noticing the water.

Best of all, there was a stellar breeze and that, combined with our shady spot, made for the best possible introduction for a newbie to a particular kind of Richmond summer pleasure.

I heard my name a second time when a food friend and her husband walked by en route to the bar. When she commented on the large crowd, I said I'd never seen it so crazy, which is how I discovered that they live barely a mile away.

"We don't usually come on Sundays for that reason but it was such a nice day!" she explained. The temptation of the Pad must be mighty when it's so convenient.

Not everyone has all their teeth at the Lilly Pad and the percentage of smokers is unusually high even for tobacco-loving Richmond, but this was the first time I ever saw someone come in with a firearm tucked into the waistband of his jeans.

When the band began playing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," my musician companion, a pro, remarked that that usually meant it was the last song and I, a Lilly Pad pro, let him know that we should now be alert to the status of the wooden gliders.

Yes, they were both currently occupied, but I knew chances were good a lot of the crowd would head out once the band stopped playing.

The music hadn't been switched over to classic rock radio for more than a handful of songs when I spotted and we scored one of the gliders and made ourselves at home. From there, we had far better views of the incoming and outgoing boat traffic, including the snack boat, its lighted "open" sign still on even once it tied up at the dock.

We watched people arrive in their boats, climb up on the dock to pull on jeans or shorts and t-shirts over their bathing suits (the sign on the door of the Lilly Pad is quite firm: shirts and shoes required for service) and wander over for a beer or a bucket.

Our decision to sit facing west meant we had spectacular sunset views over the river and only after admiring the dramatic sky for a while had the sense to turn around and see the moon making its way up the still-blue sky. Before the sun even fully set, one of the servers stuck his head out of the door and hollered, "Last call!" but we weren't the only ones who stayed put until our glasses were empty.

If you're going to head back to the city for dinner and you're still trying to ensure a memorable experience, My Noodle's dining rooms provides charm few first-timers can resist and food reliably fresh and delicious.

We got the far tiki booth - the one without the curtain for privacy - near the sound system which poured forth two hours worth of gems ranging from Roxy Music to Nirvana unplugged while we devoured dumplings, inhaled entrees and sipped a Rittenhouse Rye cocktail.

If you're going to sum up a 10 1/2 hour Sunday, consider the delight of the first-timer (seemingly extensive), the multiple soundtracks live and recorded (consistently enjoyable) and the number of weapons brandished (zero).

Bonus points awarded for eating the sandwich named after me. A bon vivant always notices.

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