Barrio Grill - Revisited
One of our fiction editors inherited a
couple of tickets to the opera recently and, since he was hard
pressed to envision any of the other staffers owning the appropriate
evening wear to even get them through the doors, he tracked down some
digits for the Swede and gave her a call to see if she might be
interested in accompanying him. She agreed to the date, (or led him
to believe she had at least) and, since she is currently residing at
an undisclosed location, he arranged to meet her at the Barrio Grill
downtown. He'd been eager to sample the fare at this particular eatery
after reading the glowing review it
received here in the Goliard and was aware also that it happens to
be within easy walking distance to the Tucson Convention Center
where the opera was to be performed. The fact that the physical
been designed by one of his favorite local musicians, former
Fanatiks lead singer Rob Paulus made the idea more appealing still. He reasoned further that, given
that his companion for the evening was rumored to be most
comfortable dabbling in niceties, it might be as good a time as any to give one of
the trendy places in town a try. However, when his impressions of the
dining experience at Barrio differed somewhat from those we had previously
described, we agreed
to let him weigh in with his observations on the establishment
figuring a little diversification in the reviewing staff is never a
bad thing. The fact that readers also seem to be interested in any
exploits involving the Swede these days didn't hurt either so we
encouraged him to use this space to spin the tale and effectively
kill two journalistic birds with one stone. What follows is his account of an
evening which he expected would be spent fine dining and hob nobbing,
shoulder to shoulder with Tucson's upper ilk, but which ended up
sounding more and more like just another typical staffer night on the
A night on the town - Swede style
arrived at The Barrio Grill and was making myself comfortable in
their small lobby for what I figured would be a fashionably late,
wait for my date, type situation when I noticed said date, a young
woman known in these pages as the Swede, peering out at me from the
bar area. Although I had been prompt to the agreed upon time, it
appeared that she had beaten me to the spot by more than a little as she
seemed heavily entrenched in an animated discussion with a group of
those downtown hipsters with multiple piercings and funky clothing that seem to be flocking
to the area these days. As she took her time disengaging from the conversation, I couldn't help but notice that she didn't
appear to be dressed for the opera at all but rather was wearing
jeans, heavy wooden clogs, and some sort of white tunic. Since I
have always known her by reputation to be almost comically
overdressed, (one of the facts on which I had based my decision to
extend the invite), I was somewhat taken aback by her appearance and
may have appeared so when she finally came blousing across the room
to greet me. My surprise certainly didn't diminish any when she
planted a lipsticky, sloppy smooch right on my mouth, which still
hung somewhat agape with wonderment. As astute readers are aware, the
only prior history between us has involved polite conversation around
the staff offices and another somewhat murky nocturnal encounter
which has been oft disputed by other staffers and certainly never
discussed between us. Other writers for our publication had also
dined with her recently and described her as haughty, distracted and
cantankerous. Given all this, I was, quite literally, gobsmacked
by the Swede before the evening even got very far off the ground.
Along with being somewhat thrown by the exuberance of her greeting, I
also noticed as we were exchanging further pleasantries, that her very essence was
a bit aromatically overwhelming and I
thought at first that she was drenched in some sort of pine scented
cologne. It wasn't long however, before I ascertained that she more likely
reeked of gin. As she fastened herself to my left arm while I
inquired of the hostess if our table was yet available, I found
myself using the other hand to slip the opera tickets from the
breast pocket of my top coat down into a front pocket of my slacks.
Whatever the evening had in store for us, it was starting to seem
unlikely to me that Sweeney Todd would be involved.
As the help looked into the seating situation, the Swede tossed her
head in the direction of an illuminated board hanging behind the hostess stand
which featured drink specials and it was clear that her eye was drawn to some sort of rum
concoction described there called an Eclipse. I had already noticed
that they were advertising Blue Paddle on the same board which is
one of the better lager style beers currently on draught around
town and made a mental note to order one before dinner even though
it appeared I had some catching up to do and probably would be
better advised to select something that packed a little more of a
punch. The Swede was tugging my arm at this point and indicating that our
best move in her opinion would be to head into the bar and order a couple Eclipses
straight from the bartender while we waited. Fortunately the hostess reappeared
just then and led us through the crowded room to a table by the window.
We were seated looking out onto South Sixth and the Swede immediately took
the initiative and swung her chair around so we'd be side by side to
enjoy the view of
passers by heading to and fro from the clubs and other goings on as we
waited to be served and
a downtown Saturday night got into full swing.
The grill was busy and noisy that
night, brimming with all types of patrons, most of whom appeared over
coifed and in a rush to gobble
down some grub before heading out to one event or another. A washed
out looking waitress eventually arrived and began hoarsely reciting
food specials, most of the specifics of which were lost in the cacophony. She was an odd
bird, seeming hectored and harried and yet serenely calm in that uncomfortable sort of way like someone who has slipped into a
state of shock. She became additionally dazed and confused when the
Swede requested "that rum drink special thingy" in
response to her offer to take a cocktail order. When she reported
that there weren't any drink specials that she knew of, I patiently waited out
the brief argument that ensued as the Swede described just what
she wanted if the special wasn't available (basically the presumed ingredients of an Eclipse with double
shots of Appleton Estates and Mount Gay flash blended with crushed ice in a
big glass). Once that deal was negotiated, I was able to interject an order for
the anticipated Blue Paddle
"A blue what?" asked the
waitress leaning in. The room did seem incredibly loud for it's size
but it turned out she may have heard me just fine but simply was
unfamiliar with the request.
"We don't have anything called
a Blue Paddle," she said making no effort to hide her exasperation once
I had repeated myself.
"Actually sweetheart you
do," pointed out the Swede. "You do too have it. Otherwise
why would it be advertised
right on your specials board? If you'll just take the time to look, you'll
see it sure enough just under the rum drink thingy I was telling you
"Well I'll go see about
that then," our server said, swishing off in a manner that gave
you the feeling that this wasn't the first time she had found
herself to be unaware of events happening around her. I was
appreciating the surreal start to the evening when the Swede chucked
me roughly on the shoulder.
"I'm sooo glad you called the
other night," she said, tucking her knees up under her rump and darting in with another
saponaceous smack, this one directed at my ear. "I was supposed to go to
the opera with this other Egbert who's been hounding me recently. I'd much
rather go to a hockey game with you though."
She leaned her head on my shoulder at this point and I continued to
stare directly out the window hoping she wouldn't catch my stunned
expression in our reflection as I attempted to process the
additional twist of information involving winter sports not to
mention the affectionate reception I had been getting. It occurred to me
briefly that maybe she was under the impression that I was someone
else all together.
"So," she continued, picking something off my collar as
she spoke, "when you left the message about the hockey thing I just
blew him off making like I had a previous commitment I had forgotten
about. It worked out perfectly. Plus, unless things have changed from
a few nights ago, you can't order beers at the
"So who is this Egbert guy?" I finally said, wondering if
perhaps I wasn't dealing with an insane or at least habitually inebriated person.
Perhaps I would find out later that it was I who, in fact, was this Egbert character of
which she spoke.
"Oh his name's not really
Egbert. That's merely the class of guy he is. Really just this harmless
kid who thought he could impress a girl by producing a couple opera tickets.
I guess he couldn't have known that I've probably seen Sweeney Todd fifteen times
but on top of that, I'm over spending my time with
guys like him anyway. Seriously I am. I've realized lately that they
don't really actually appreciate the things we do but just go along
and pretend so they can be seen with me. What do I get out of that?
ready for a real night out. Hey, lets split the Barrio tostada for
an appetizer! Doesn't that sound good? Where is that ditzy
The Barrio Tostada, it turned out,
was grilled chicken, tomato concasse and white cheddar cheese on a
whole wheat tortilla, which arrived awhile later and was excellent
in sort of a fancy mini pizza kind of way. Following the
recommendations of this publication, I had selected the pork chop as
my main dish since it had been reported to be almost a life altering
experience by whichever staffer it was that wrote the prior review.
The Swede had selected a pasta entree with chicken, dried papaya and
mango in a chipotle Chardonnay cream over linguine and was working
on a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc currently. My little bottle of Blue
Paddle seemed inadequate and overly brown on the table so I had it
taken away and allowed her to slosh some wine into my
glass as well.
it funny," said the Swede, "how restaurants always go to
the trouble to put two
kinds of wine glasses at every place setting on every single night
when it doesn't seem like all that many people even order wine. Then
the servers have to take them away time after time and the bussers
have to polish them up and reset them so then you have all these
people carrying glasses back and forth around the room when food is
taking forever in the meantime and real service is suffering. It
seems like it would be so much easier to just bring the glasses at
that time when somebody actually orders some vino. Especially since
it comes in a whole new glass from the bar half the time anyway. I
actually just meant to order one glass of this blanc here but that
Mensa chick must
have thought I pointed to the whole bottle. Oh well, Skal! Za vashe
zdorovye! Or Salud if you prefer."
I didn't believe it had been a mistake at all actually but was too
busy trying to figure out how I was going to parley two tickets in
row EE at the Arizona Opera's performance of Sweeney Todd for two
tickets inside the blue line to see the Arizona Icecats play ASU in
the final home game of the season. I had no idea how the Swede's wires
had gotten crossed and guessed I didn't particularly care since the
opera tickets had been given to me anyway. My accompaniment for
the evening seemed like she would probably enjoy herself regardless
of what event we attended. The hockey game and the
opera started at about the same time, I seemed to recall, and were in adjacent
buildings as well so maybe I'd be able to grab some tickets to the
game while my heavily imbibing companion took an inevitable trip to
the restroom. I felt her looking up at the side of my face just then
realized some sort of response must be expected.
"Probably because the mark up on alcohol is one of the main
ways that restaurants
turn a profit," I offered. "I'm pretty sure you can buy a
six pack of Blue Paddle for what they are charging us for this one
12 ounce bottle which isn't what I wanted by the way since it's much
better on tap. I would bet also that you could get something
comparable to this Sav Blanc at Trader Joe's for
about one tenth of what it'll end up showing up for on the
"It is good though isn't
it." The Swede swished her wine around and held it up to watch
the legs run down the side of the glass.
"Yes, it's quite nice. However, I think
I'll switch to a Cabernet or something with my pork chop. I like a
beverage with a little more robustness when I attack a cut of pig."
"What do you suppose I should
do," asked the Swede, her brow furrowing. She had scooted her
chair back around to the far side of the table now and apparently
kicked off her clogs since her bare feet had showed up in my lap.
"I can't really drink a Sauvignon Blanc to accompany a dish
made with a Chardonnay cream can I?"
"You're right," I agreed. "That probably does defy some rule or other.
could split a Shiraz or something I suppose. Probably not what the sommelier
would recommend to accompany a white linguini but I'm not sure they
have a sommelier here anyway. Our waitress certainly doesn't
qualify." I had put a hand on the Swede's cool feet under the
table and could feel some sort of toe ring on the littlest digit on
her right foot which I spun in my fingers.
"New metatarsal jewelry? I inquired nonchalantly, searching
her face for any significance that the interaction with her toes
might be registering but she shook her head comfortably without
betraying anything and instead
looked interestedly out the window at another leather clad couple walking
"I say! Have your sommelier deliver us your finest Shibotz,"
the Swede announced with sudden burst of dramatic gesticulation as
the food runner arrived with our meals. When she was given a blank
look by this person, who wasn't our waitress, the undaunted Swede
hopped to her feet and padded over to the bar where she appeared to
make some arrangement with the publican before disappearing in the direction of the
restroom. I used the time wisely, wielding my cell phone to secure a
couple of Icecats tickets which I had them leave at will call.
Eventually a plump woman in a inappropriately wrapped skirt, who was
working the floor in some capacity, returned with a bottle of Petite
Syrah and a couple new glasses. I noticed the Swede hovering nearby
until the woman was done with the wine production. She then swooped in
looking freshly scrubbed and sporting a rosy glow.
"Was that the sommelier? I can
only hope she's pregnant otherwise she has no excuse for going out
of the house in that wrap
thing." The Swede surveyed the room. "Everybody has such weird bodies here.
Look at that 200 pound, bottle blonde porker over there! She's
obviously in from some
little farm town and keeps howling with laughter at everything her
friend says when you just know it's not funny in the slightest. And
would she dress like she's a normal weight with half her boobs
hanging out when her stomach roll is twice the size." She
scanned the room some more. "And our waitress is another
one. She's got to be some sort of like, rock climbing chick. It doesn't seem like she's having a very good night
now that she's down here off the mountain either. An
athletic looking girl I guess." The Swede flexed a muscle and
had me feel.
"I think I could take her though, don't you?"
"Indubitably," I said.
was trying to envision how that contest would go down as I addressed the pork chop,
which was seared in some sort of glaze, and was far from "plump
and succulent" which is how I remembered the other reviewer
describing it. It was rather tough actually, and hard to cut into
with the provided steak knife, let alone to chew. It wasn't bad
tasting necessarily but seemed instead like any other pork chop
somebody's mom would make for you when you got invited to a friend's
house for dinner. The accompanying mashed potatoes were quite good,
along with the vegetable medley and the juicy surrounding broth was
fine as well but hardly, in themselves, worth the price of a full
dinner. The Swede nibbled daintily at her pasta for a few moments
before declaring it "scrumptious" and pushing most of it
away. She settled back in her chair holding the glass of petite in
both hands. Her feet found their way into my lap again.
"So," I said, after a
bout of extended chewing on a piece of the chop. "I'm not sure
it would ever have occurred to me that you'd be such a hockey fan.
It was sort of a shot in the dark when I asked you to go." This
was a lie of course but I was hoping to jog her memory and maybe shed some light on the opera/hockey
Sweden," she said, "we just love hockey. As a matter of fact I followed the
team around at the Four Nation's Cup in Skövde, Skara, and Tibro
last November. You know, the big women's tournament. I'm friends
with a few of the girls on the National team. Well, I say friends. I know
them to say Hi to in the bars is what I mean."
"This is big women's ice hockey you say?"
"Not big women. A big tournament for women," she said, her eyes
flashing at me briefly before glazing back over with their former mirthful playfulness. "And, as a matter of fact, definitely a cut above the level of
skating we can expect to see from your boys tonight. That is if
we actually even end up going."
"And why wouldn't we be
going?" I asked, wondering what she was up to now.
"Well, I don't know. Take a gander at
your watch for one thing." I glanced down to see that time had
flown by somehow and it was already well after eight. No chance of
scalping the Sweeney Todd's now. Not that I'd intended to make much
of an effort to sell them anyway. People don't typically head down
to the opera without having previously arranged for tickets but I
maybe could have at least bequeathed them to someone waiting in the
queue at the box office.
"We can probably still see the
puck drop for the second period," the Swede said, as her eyes
followed a couple of totally spent, trashy gals with spiked Mohawks passing outside the window. "If you want to hurry
on over to the arena that
is." She took an extended guzzle of wine while observing me
coyly over the rim of her glass and tugging at my tucked in shirt
with her toes. "Or we might be able to find something else to
"What did you have in mind," I said, adjusting in
my chair and taking a drink myself. A second bottle of Petite Syrah
had nearly been disposed of and a feeling of pleasant plumpness and
logy had begun to wash over me. Despite the din in the restaurant, I
was suddenly picturing a snifter, a crackling fire, and an
increasingly friendly Swede. Just as I allowed myself to hope that
the evening might be headed in that direction however, the
surprising Scandinavian threw me yet another curve.
"What do you know about
X?" she said suddenly with a new mischievous gleam in her eye.
"X" I repeated, my heart sinking. "I
hope you're not talking about some drug."
"No silly. The band. Have you
heard of them?"
"Of course I've heard of
them," I recovered, searching my memory for one of their songs
that I could reference to prove it but drawing a blank. "They were
like the original punkers weren't they? John Doe right? A couple of Goliard folk
still listen to their tapes at the office sometimes. They're not bad
I guess. A little raw but not bad. Why are you asking about them all
of a sudden?" We both watched as another leather clad couple,
grappling in each other's clutches, lurched by.
"Oh just that they're playing the Rialto tonight,"
said the Swede, draining the rest of her syrah. She got to her feet
slowly carrying her clogs in one hand and came around behind my
chair to drape herself over my shoulders. "What say we blow
this tired joint and join this freaky parade heading over to the
Rialto. We've got some time yet before they come on. Maybe we can
stop at this little underground bar I know
about?" She whispered all this huskily from just behind my left ear.
"It's dark and quiet in there and more conducive to getting
better acquainted. And then we can head up to Rialto and slam dance the
night away. Just wait til you see this Exene chick. You're gonna
The waitress returned and the Swede
went off somewhere while I settled the check without being asked if
we cared for dessert or coffee which was a good thing because
apparently we didn't. A bus boy had taken it upon himself to box up
the remainder of the Swede's pasta dish and delivered the container in a large
brown shopping bag. It confused me to have him cross the room and
thrust some bag at me out of nowhere but I slung it over my wrist like a purse and
headed for the door intending to wait for the Swede in the
cool of the evening outside. A chef stood opening and closing doors
for people and bid me a
pleasant good night just as the Swede reappeared. She had her shoes back
on and immediately shimmied her shoulders as the cool night air
engulfed her and thrust one arm inside my jacket around the back and
snaked the other hand between two buttons in the front of my shirt where
I felt her cold palm against my stomach. As we walked unsteadily towards downtown,
falling in with the cavalcade of leather and spikes, I felt as
overdressed as I did exhilarated. This Swede, I had to admit, was
proving to be another thing all together.
"Do you mind if I ask you something?" I eventually said,
throwing the arm not left holding the bag around her shoulders and
pulling her close against the night chill. "I'll warn you first
though, it's the same something people are always asking me. And I
never really know how to answer."
"Shoot," she said.
"So.... Like, what is it that you
she said, pulling up so that we teetered to a stop. She appeared to
consider the question some before shaking it off and tugging me down
by the back of the neck to where she could engage me in a
juicy embrace which went on awhile until we seemed like we might topple over. Stable
again, she cupped my ears and slurped lightly on the end of my nose
before peering up
with her gray blue eyes and finally saying, "I guess what I, like
do, is what I'm, like doing, right now. Just hanging out with
certain people." She kissed me again, very quickly on the mouth this time. "And you always seemed like someone I might like to
hang out with." She held me back at arm's length before almost
throwing a shoe and sitting down in the process. "So when you
called with those concert tickets, well, here I am."
"And you could tell this even
though we've never really hung out before," I said, watching her
"Right, I totally could." She then suddenly grabbed my hands and
began pulling us away from the
street lights and down a dark, redolent alley.
"It does all seem sort of familiar though doesn't it?" she
said, once she had stopped and forced me against the side of a dumpster where
she placed a knee between my legs and stood teetering on one clog in front of me. "Don't you feel that
too?" Grabbing my belt loops to steady herself, she pulled
herself up against me. "That's what I've always thought about you.
Familiar. Since the first time we talked in the offices that day. I
felt like I was back in....."
"FRAAAGHACH SHITAXX HUFF HUFF FUGGA PIGS!" A loud male
voice choked up, all gruff and phlegmy, from within the dumpster just
behind us and continued to cough out a string
of expletive sounding ruminations which brought the Swede's thoughts
on our supposed compatibility up short. As I spun and moved away slowly, the Swede
stumbled clutching around behind me,
until she was almost completely lost under my long coat.
"Jesus Christ," she said.
"Yes," answered the hoarse, sputumy
voice. A bearded, nappy head slowly appeared, peering over the dumpster's
side, looking all ghastly and blood soaked in the wavering light.
"Here you go friend," I
heard myself say. "Have some Chardonnay linguini." I
tossed the bag into the bin as I felt myself being guided from
behind by the
pants back towards the avenue. Like some stumbling donkey,
we came barging into the lights of the sidewalk, a lurching rumpled mess
with a head
and four legs sticking out of a coat that startled a group of librarian looking women that were
passing by deep in conversation.
"Jesus Christ," one of
them said throwing up a hand and grabbing her bun.
"He's right back there," the Swede informed them,
disengaging herself as the ass end of our creature and pointing
the alley. She grabbed my hand and breathlessly begin pulling me again. "Up ahead,"
she panted as we picked up momentum again, "just at
the end of this lane is that bar I was talking about. We're going to
need to get a shot of red eye in a dirty glass or something before
the show starts? X is the type of band that requires it."
"Jesus Christ is right," I thought to
myself as I let the Swede tug me across the street and push me into
an alcove and down some darkened steps towards a burnt red door from
which a smoky saxophone riffs emanated. "More fun in the new
world - the missing years," I thought.
"Hey Swede," I said pulling her up short and leaning her against the
wall at the bottom
of the cement stair. "Don't you think we should run over and maybe make
sure we can get some concert tickets before we go and get all distracted again."
I began waving my arms suddenly. "Tickets! I need more tickets. I won't be comfortable until I have
secured us tickets to every last event going on in this town tonight!"
Swede, who had fallen against me, laughed out loud and put her hands down in my
against the cold. She pulled one of them back out quickly producing
the small envelope with Arizona Opera Company written on it. She held
it up to inspect in the light.
"Calm down we'll go get some more tickets in a minute," she said.
"But we might as well head into this place and have a drink since we're
She raised an eyebrow once she had extracted the
duckets from the paper sleeve and saw the writing on them. "So what if we get
And hey would you look at this? Someone has gone and put opera tickets in your pocket.
What else do you have down in there Eggy?" She tried to fish around
some more but I caught her arms as a figure in a long cloak came down
the stairs. "You know?" she said after he had passed. "I bet we can use these to get into
the X show." She
waved the Sweeney Todds under my nose like a fan. "The door guy
over there probably wouldn't
even know the difference. And won't it be fun to try?"
"Five dollar cover" a bouncer said, emerging in the door from
out of the gloam within. "Band night."
"Here take these," said
the Swede shoving the Todd tickets into the bald, hulking man's palm as she
pressed past him.
"This gentleman and I have some important things to discuss and
we're going to need a couple of drinks to do it. And a dark corner.
Straight whiskey ought to do. And have
the band play some more Etta James."
The bouncer turned to watch the Swede pass, shaking his head slowly as she moved off across
the dance floor
past a lone couple who swayed to the saxophone and the bluesy lyrics. "Lord
baby. Love's been
rough on me."
"Aren't you the lucky guy tonight?" I
heard the bouncer say, as he glanced down at the Todd tickets
briefly before wadding them up and tossing them into the small, sand
filled bucket that was propping open the door.
"How's that?" I said.
He stepped aside and waved
off the money I held out to him. "Go ahead and keep it pal."
He said. "You're going to need it before I do is my guess." As I moved to get by him,
his gaze returned towards
the back of the room where the Swede had slid into a vinyl corner
booth. She was giving one of us the come hither finger.
"And hey, buddy," he said, catching me gently by
the elbow. "Do me a favor and be careful. She's been in here before you know?"
today you're gonna be so sick so sick
you'll prop your forehead on the sink
say oh christ oh jesus christ my head's gonna crack
like a bank tonight
you'll fall asleep in clothes-so late
like a candy bar wrapped up
for lunch that's all you get to taste
poverty and spit
poverty and spit
bloody red eyes go to nausea
bloody red eyes go to nausea
bloody red eyes go to sleep
you're talking out of harmony
you can't remember what you said
cut it out you feel retarded
take the sissors
saw the head
bloody red eyes go to nausea
bloody red eyes go to nausea
bloody red eyes go to sleep
Exene Cervenka and John Doe