Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Balloon Called Moaning

When I checked into the B & B, the desk clerk told me breakfast was served from 7-10:00; when I laughed, she asked why. "I don't think I'll make it," I explained.

An hour later when I left the B & B for Bar Pilar, recommended to me by my D.C. food critic friend, I was debating whether to move my car or not before beginning my evening. Not sure how strict the parking enforcement was, I turned to the guy walking behind me and asked.

He turned out to be a neighborhood resident, full of information and absolutely charming. He was surprised to hear that I was a D.C. native since he was not.

When I mentioned I was going to a show, he asked which one because he was, too (his was Harlem Dance Theater at the Lincoln). Then he asked where I was headed to eat and I told him Bar Pilar, he said he'd walk me there.

I told him I'd seen the Gauguin show this afternoon and he had a quick response. "Yes, but did you see the Canaletto show?" he challenged me, asking about the National Gallery's "Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals."

Of course I'd made a point to see the exhibit of 18th-century Venetian view painters; the enormous canvasses with the minutest of details were breathtaking in their scope and revelatory in the depiction of daily live, both of upper and lower classes (and dogs were in so many scenes it surprised me).

I mentioned the Picasso show at home but it was the mention of the Ife art of ancient Nigeria that made his eyes light up. Confirming to him that it is a must-see show, I tried to convey the sculptural beauty with which he'd be rewarded for the soul-sucking drive down I-95.

"I just need to find someone to go down with me and do it," he said. I assured him that if he couldn't find someone, he could come down anyway and that I'd happily see the show again. There's nothing like a fellow art geek with which to enjoy something like that.

Then we reached Bar Pilar and he extended his hand, so I introduced myself. Then it was his turn, "I'm Tom and it's been delightful walking and talking with you."

My evening was off to a great start and I wasn't ten minutes in. Inside, BP was filling up, just as I'd been warned it would early. Taking the only free stool, the bartender put a menu in front of me; it was the Bar Pilar "Offal" happy hour menu, which I already knew I had every intention of sampling.

Holding it up, I said, "I drove two hours for this!" and the guy sitting next to me responded, "On the house then!" to the bartender. To get the ball rolling, I ordered the Aria Cava and grilled beef heart with salsa verde off the offal menu, each a steal at $4.

My seatmate Mark was curious about where I'd come from and why, but he was delighted to learn I'd grown up in the same county he had ("P.G. County represent!" he exclaimed), even going to the same high school as my first (that would be first everything), DeMatha. We'd found our first common bond.

The Hemingway-themed restaurant had an old Underwood typewriter at the end of the bar and photographs of Papa with fish on a dock. Everywhere around me, people were ordering Dark and Stormies, which arrived in a glass half full of dark rum with an accompanying small bottle of Fentiman's ginger beer.

Meanwhile, I felt like I was being rewarded for my drive; when my glass of Cava reached half-mast, the bartender said, "Let me top that off for you," and filled it to the brim. What a lovely thing.

My three pieces of beef heart were delivered and I couldn't help myself, so I dug right in while Mark and I continued to chat each other up. It was wonderful, crispy-grilled but rare on the inside and the salsa verde gave it a nice spice. Mark was on his way to a dinner date, but with a twist: he planned to tell his date that he just wanted to be friends.

He lives in the Atlas neighborhood, which I haven't visited but am eager to, so he gave me the skinny on where I need to go. We laughed about our childhood memories of H Street, so different from now.

I ordered another wine off the offal menu, this time a Ruffino Orvieto, but paired it with a regular menu item, the salad of warm frisse, bacon, sunny egg and bleu cheese. I figured it best to put some sort of plant in my belly before returning to offal. And do I even need to wax poetic about warm greens with bacon, egg and cheese on top? I think not.

Mark asked about my plans for the night, which led us to music and we never looked back. He was envious that I'd seen the Mountain Goats last night ("Do you go to a show every night?" he wondered) because they are a huge favorite of his. Turned out we had loads of music favorites in common.

My next course was veal sweetbreads with polenta and caper sauce paired with Casa de Campo Malbec. I'd now had five of the six offal menu items, but at $4 a pop, who was counting?

All of a sudden, it was time for Mark to leave for his date, but not before telling me how much he'd enjoyed our conversation. "At the very least, we need to be friends on Facebook," he said. By the time I got back here from the Black Cat, the friend request was waiting for me.

I finished out my BP time with an enormous red velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing and a chat with an Indian attorney who extolled the virtues of life in Mississippi, of all places. We hit it off when we discovered he eats out every night of the week and more restaurant recommendations rolled my way.

It was great, I barely had to walk half a block to get to the Black Cat and I arrived in time to snag a stool at the bar for the first two bands.

My bartender was older, smart-assed, tattooed and accommodating ("Would you like another Hornitos?" and when I said he'd have to twist my arm, he actually took hold of it...and grinned before bringing it to me).

Washington state-based Lonely Forest had a poppy indie sound and the singer's voice had lots of character. I really enjoyed them.

The next band was from Nashville, but less to my taste. It worked out well, though, because a guy sat down next to me and we began chatting. He asked what I thought of the band, I shared and he clutched his heart. "Ooh, that was harsh. I can't listen to them the same after that.."

A graduate student in philosophy at American University, Philip was ashamed to admit that it was his first Black Cat show after almost five years living in D.C.

I didn't judge (okay, maybe a tad) but I also didn't hesitate to tease him unmercifully about his musical laziness, which he readily acknowledged. "You just met me and you've already figured me out," he laughed. Years of practice, my friend. He'd only discovered the Joy Formidable this morning while searching for something to do tonight.

We left our stools and made our way to the stage, maybe three people back, for an excellent vantage point to hear the Joy Formidable play. I'd seen them up close all evening because they were sitting two bar stools away, just around the corner of the bar from me.

This was epic, primal, shoegaze-sounding rock full of reverb from a Welsh trio who looked like they were thrilled with how into them the crowd was. Lead singer Ritzy was adorable, her eyes wide when she sang and her pale blond bob swinging in time as she shredded.

Fact: I wouldn't have been anywhere else but front and center for that aural assault on my eardrums tonight. I've been waiting almost a year to hear the songs on their EP "Balloon" live and I finally got that pleasure.

Color me blissed out. Walking back to the B & B afterwards, my ears were ringing, which I expect will continue well into tomorrow.

Which is just fine, because tomorrow involves only brunch and more art, so all I'll need are my mouth and eyes, both of which got a workout tonight, but are still fully functional.

I should only be so lucky as to have such great random conversation from strangers again. Fingers crossed...

And, if not, there's always art and food.


  1. Great to meet and chat with you! Let me know when you're back in DC. We should hit H St for non-offal foodstuffs and a show. At some point I need to explore Richmond. Believe it or not, I've never been!

  2. How can I resist your offer to be my Atlas guide? That sounds great.

    At some point, you should come to RVA and see a show and eat, but first things first.

  3. Hello Karen!

    Hope you are doing well. I had a great time Friday night and I was wondering if you would be interested in getting dinner and seeing a show sometime soon.

  4. It was terrific having someone to share the excitement of that show with! Are you ready to break out of your musical laziness?