Friday, May 23, 2008

Chez Jay

Sometimes we long for a nostalgic past that exists only in our own minds or memories - the original is long-gone demolished, or the memory is so altered by passing time that its no more than a feeling.

I'm remembering what it was like to be a kid and go with my parents to a "grown-up" restaurant - Lenhardt's in Cincinnati, where European waiters in formal attire served us wiener schnitzel, goulash, and pizelle. I'm remembering what it was like to be a young woman from the Midwest exploring Manhattan in the '70's, and visiting hidden little cafes in Greenwich Village, which looked as they did thirty years past. I'm remembering the 13 Coins, a brass and leather-boothed all-night joint in Seattle in the '80's, across the street from the Seattle Times building, where the reporters drank coffee, and stagehands after a load-out at the Paramount ate 3- egg crab-and-cheddar omelettes with a beer before going home to sleep.

You know the kind of place I'm talking about. Dark wood. Candles. Booths. Red-checked tablecloths. Cocktails. If there's food, it's steak. The choice of salad dressing always includes Roquefort. If there's music, it's standards, or jazz.

My LA past isn't long enough to qualify for any personal nostalgia for me, but I am always happy to borrow a little of it. One of the best places to get that sense of "the old days" is Chez Jay.

Chez Jay is a low, narrow building two blocks from the beach. It's in a parking lot right next to an old motel with a neon sign. The neighborhood has changed in the past ten years - there are slick new hotels across the street, a huge complex housing a policy think-tank to the east, and a sleek office building to the south.

Chez Jay has a neon sign, crazy ocean murals on the ocean-blue walls, a giant plaster scallop shell facing the parking lot. You enter through a Dutch-style front door that lets the setting sun off the ocean penetrate the interior gloom.

The bar is to the left when you enter, and it's usually full of regular patrons. Tattered memorabilia on the wall is authentically layered pentimento - the new applied over the old. The smart-talking bartender has seen it all, she'll tell ya, as she puts your glass in front of you.

The right side is lined with leather booths and tables with red-checked cloths. There's a kind of awning over the booths that makes it feel cozy and intimate when you sit in them. There's just enough room in the middle of the floor for a single row of small tables. Each table has a large votive candle made of red pebbled glass.

It's the perfect dive. We ended up there as an impluse, and it being the most geographically convenient place for the the three of us to meet - [The Man I Love] heading homeward from where he works, me working a few blocks away, and Our Son driving in from Topanga, before he embarked on further adventures of the evening. Our heat wave of the weekend had truly broken, and a stiff breeze was up, sending palm fronds to the pavement, and tossing bougainvillea bracts like brilliant confetti through the parking lot.

The weather made it feel even cosier inside.

Our Son had scampi and a draft beer; [The Man I Love] and I each had a steak and a glass of cabernet sauvignon. I chose scalloped potatoes, which I adore despite their caloric sins, while he had a baked potato with sour cream. The steaks were perfect, tender, cooked just medium rare as requested, and so big I took 3/4's of mine home and had a sandwich the next day.


It was the first time Our Son had been here. I wonder if this dinner and this place will end up in his nostalgia library someday.

I left my camera home in the charger, so I used my cell phone for these shots. But I kind of like the mistiness it lends the images - sort of like the mistiness of nostaglia itself.

UPDATE: as long as I'm being nostalgic about Seattle, I would be remiss if I failed to mention another great, truly departed (for the 13 Coins still remains) dive, Bob Murray's Dog House. All roads lead to The Dog House.


Tootsie Farklepants said...

Wow your son looks so much like you! Have you been to Moonshadows? BEST clam chowder!

Mrs. G. said...

We just took our daughter to 13 Coins yesterday for eggs benedict-her first visit. We all sat at the counter with those Star Trek type leather chairs. She loved it.

I've never been to Chez Jays.