Friday, December 21, 2012

In Case It's the Last

Drink fast. It's all gonna end tomorrow.

Or so said tonight's cocktail menu at Jackson Ward's newest restaurant, Saison.

It was an end of the world agave party to quench the oncoming fire cause the end is nigh.

Irresistible, right?

So I found a companion and we slid into the two bar stools directly under the (always unnecessary) TV screen.

While I wasn't feeling my imminent demise enough to actually order a mixed drink, I did happily try Espolon tequila, recommended to me by the barkeep as "the Patron killer."

Since I refuse to subsidize Patron's massive and endless ad campaigns, I was happy to find a tequila that tasted as good at a fraction of the price.

Naturally it came with one of those large, slow-melting cubes but also in a thrift store glass.

In fact, I was told that all the glassware, even the vintage decanters that poured my water (you know, the fake cut glass kind you see in movies from the 40s), were purchased from thrift stores.

My inner hippie approved of such recycling.

The small Latin-influenced southern food menu had lots of gluten-free and began options, but since when do I need either?

So it was that we started with lavender black bean cassoulet with pork shoulder.

The bowl of perfectly seasoned pork and loads of beans delivered a nice nose of lavender on some bites while the hominy cake provided a textural contrast.

A guy came in and took a seat near us at the bar and when it came time to order he put the menu book down sheepishly.

"I wanted to order something different than the burger," he told the bartender. "But that burger is just too good."

Considering that Saison has only been open a week today, I was a little surprised that they were already having repeat customers.

Good sign, very good sign.

The music was classic R & B and when I inquired its source was told, "It's Spotify set to Sam Cooke. Hard to f*ck up."

I know, right?

Two songs later, Paul Simon's "Graceland" interrupted Aretha, or maybe it was Bill Withers and I had to question Spotify's ability to stay on track.

But after that one glitch, all went well musically, to the point that a nearby diner was dancing in her seat.

For our next course, we had a big bowl of pozole rojo, a savory combination of pork, hominy, chilies, shredded cabbage, corn, cilantro and lime.

Squeezing the lime over it brought out the depth of the flavors and by the time we finished, the bowl was licked clean.

And speaking of clean enough to eat off of, Saison's bathroom was positively charming.

A green toilet and pink sink (surely both circa the 60s or 70s) sat atop the best-looking floor in Richmond, hands down.

A collage of paintings, most looking to be 19th century European covered the floor under a thick coat of polyurethane.

It was almost too pretty to walk on.

Although, I suppose, not if the world really is going to end tomorrow.

In that case, we'll do what we have to do.

Leaving there with umbrellas aloft, it was time to have some last-night-on-the-planet music at the Camel.

You know, just in case.

The show began with a set so awesome I am still reeling from it.

Josh Hryciak, whose band Mermaid Skeletons still holds a place in my heart for one of the most atmopsheric shows ever (Poe Museum garden on a hot summer night), was the opener.

And here's where it gets amazing.

I know Josh as a mild-mannered singer/songwriter (with impressive chops in both regards) who plays acoustic guitar and harmonizes like an angel.

Tonight things were a little different.

He took the stage, opened his laptop and proceeded to put on what can only be called performance art.

And stellar performance art at that.

Wearing a poncho, he posed as his laptop introduced him ("He smells as good as he looks!") and his opening act - Jimmy Durante.

Josh proceeded to sing "The Christmas Waltz" a la Durante.

It was so well done it was hysterical before segueing into an electronic beat-based number he danced to (while admonishing us to "stay there!"  since no one was moving) that was barely recognizable as the sound I once knew Josh to have.

But then that morphed into pure Josh doing what I think was dance pop but with his voice became something far more transcendent.

Partway through he removed the poncho, looped it on his finger and draped it down his back, Sinatra-style.

The next couple of songs were just as impressive with electronica under Josh's songs.

He even ran up and down between the tables, perhaps hoping to get others to move. "Usually people are dancing by now," he cracked.

But even if we weren't dancing, we were definitely loving his songs and the hushed room proved that.

"My name is Josh Hryciak and this is not my day job," he said before his all-too-soon last song. "Feel free to sit for this."

And some people finally did dance but most of us were just too wowed to move.

I know I was.

The Kindling Kind, a quartet, played next and they began with "Silent Night," first with their own lyrics and then with the traditional ones sung a capella by the lead singer.

With electric and an acoustic guitar, bass, drums, keys and the occasional mandolin or banjo, they had a haunting Appalachian-sounding singer and a drummer who wore sunglasses throughout their set.

In his defense, he was half of a killer rhythm section.

Headlining was Zac Hryciak and the Junglebeat, everyone's favorite RVA chamber pop group and they claimed to be mostly sick.

If that was true, you'd never have known it from their tight-sounding set, which included three Christmas songs.

There was the "Hawaiian Christmas Song," "White Christmas," and a surprising version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

I say surprising because they used some of the original lyrics, the ones Judy Garland refused to sing in "Meet Me In St. Louis," from which the song comes.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year, we may all be living in the past

See, even in 1944, they were allowing for the end of the world arriving any moment.

All I can say is, I'm glad I got out to try a new restaurant and new tequila before it was too late.

And I will be forever grateful that I was in the room tonight when Josh Hryciak arose from the ashes of Mermaid Skeletons to shower my ears with beautifully sung dance pop.

If the Mayans were right, I can say I certainly went out on a high note.

Bury me with some Espolon and a mix tape of the Hryciaks, won't you?

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