Crossroads Racks

When your night starts with a nearly nude woman offering you a mini cream puff, you know you’re in for an interesting time. Then again, it was First Friday, so perhaps other such arty nekkidness and pastry were titillating an appreciative crowd elsewhere in the Crossroads. Insert your own creamy-filling joke here.

Whatever the case, we were a bit flustered upon encountering the almost-bare model at the wine store Cellar Rat. We were out with a gaggle of research assistants to check out all the exposed-brick-
hardwood-floor drinking establishments that had opened recently in the Crossroads. Because the Cellar Rat was celebrating its opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony starring Mayor Kay Barnes — and because it’s conveniently located across the street from Night Ranger HQ — we decided to be neighborly and pop in. We might not have an actual grocery store downtown, but at least we have a cool place to buy alcohol and fancy cheese and meat. That’s the majority of our food pyramid anyway.

We were admiring the wine racks when another type of rack came our way, bearing a tray of sweets. Local artist Jennifer Janesko, who was there to hawk her pinup stuff, had painted clusters of purple grapes and vines on the model’s ample bosom. The model’s semi-topless look was completed with fuchsia hot pants and heels. We weren’t sure where to look: at the boob art? the cream puffs? into her eyes? We snuck a glance at the art and noted that she was probably wearing pasties. In the meantime, some guys nearby guffawed frattishly at the unexpected teat show.

“I’ll be eating from this all night,” one of them said. Which would have been sooo much better if he’d added, “I’ll take a nipple … er, nibble.” Bud-duh, bump!

We decided to forgo the Cellar Rat’s $10 wine sampler and head to our next destination: Nara, the just-opened Japanese restaur-bar located just a couple doors down from HQ. First Friday marked the launch of its 3-6 p.m. daily happy-hour specials. The ample crowd at Nara was gobbling up the cheap sushi and robata-style grilled meat on sticks. We wanted in on the meat-on-a-stick action and ordered some skewered chicken and beef. We also asked for a yuzu drink, which contained green-tea-infused vodka, yuzu wine, club soda and Sierra Mist. It wasn’t part of the happy-hour special, but even at $9, we couldn’t resist any cocktail with Sierra Mist.

While we drank, we admired the décor. Nara is long and rectangular, with a bar at one end and booths and small tables occupying the rest of the space. A row of big windows framed an awesome view of the downtown skyline, featuring the new H&R Block building, which was lit up like an alien spaceship. But the coolest detail was in the bathroom: a sink spanning the divide between the men’s and women’s sides. Rest assured, only hands and feet were visible from either side.

The Nara patrons seemed to be a mix of downtown developers and some hipsters, wannabe scenesters, A-gays and a few smatterings of empty-nesters. As we contemplated the crowd, we heard the unmistakable sound of a dropped glass, followed by shrieks from the long table behind us — a sure sign that this merry party was the liveliest bunch in the place. We went over and met 34-year-old twins Angie and Lisa. They were initially at Nara for a work party, but eventually, their friends and assorted loved ones showed up for some drunken good times.

Intrigued by Angie and Lisa’s identical twinship, we grilled them about whether they felt each other’s pain and stuff like that.

“Well, I could always sense when Lisa was about to get in trouble,” Angie said. Apparently, her trouble meter picked up instances of lollipop theft and sneaking out of the house. Sadly, it doesn’t warn about the effects stemming from too many froufrou drinks, which we’d totally appreciate.

Then we met Chris and Bryce. They were sitting on the same side of a table, which totally indicated datelike conditions. They met about a month ago on, as 28-year-old Chris put it, “the dirty, dirty Internet.” After talking for about a week, they met up in person and, well, there they are.

So, guys, what does robata mean to you?

“I’ve eaten here four times, and I still don’t know what it means,” Chris confessed.

We moved on and met Alex and Joey, who were decidedly not together. Alex, clad in sweater and scarf, also sported the Asian flush — the phenomenon in which drinking causes our faces to redden. (Many Asians lack the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.) That was our beacon to start the interview, and good-natured heckling soon ensued.

“We’re not together,” Joey said. Then he added, “It smells like fucking ketchup in here.”

How did they meet?

“We were renting a cabin in Florida, when one thing led to another,” Alex said. “Look at him. He’s so cute.”

“Don’t touch me, man,” Joey said.

Actually, they work together. Alex flashed his business card, which we misread as HTNB.

“Are you dyslexic?” Alex asked. Uh, make that HNTB. Same diff, we say. Anyway, they told us that they usually go to the Lava Room, but their bartender friend moved to Nara, so they stopped in to see her.

We had one last question for them: Do they have an alternative definition for robata?

“It’s Japanese for grilled from behind,” Alex answered.

“I was born here, and we’re not together,” was Joey’s response.

“Oh, Joey,” Alex said with a sigh.

By the time the clock struck 10ish, things were dying down. After our night of rampant froufrou drinks, cream puffs and side-boob action, all we could do was paraphrase the wise words of Dennis DeYoung: Domo arigato, Mr. Robata, for helping us escape just when we needed to. We’re sure that both Nara and Cellar Rat will continue to help us drown our sorrows quite well.

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