Blowing the gristle whistle

We love restaurants with atmosphere. Joints with cool-sounding names like “Uncle Lester’s Carcass Pit,” where people can carve their names in the wall and throw peanut shells on the floor.

We love to hang out in places with character. Where the wait staff is intentionally rude, the lighting glows like nicotine-stained teeth, the chicken wings are hot and everything except the shrimp cocktail comes in a basket.

Aside from the “Harleys Welcome” banner out front, you can tell when you’ve “discovered” one of these trendy roadhouses because they have a flare for making their food sound really appetizing. For instance, the menu items are all “world famous” specials like “The Charred Slab-o-Flesh platter,” “The Slathered Meat Boat” and “The Battle of Gettysburg-on-a-plate for two” (for the rare-cooked beef and dinner theatre lover in us all).

Almost all these places have their own clothing lines, too. That’s an indicator of legendary hole-in-the-wall status. Their one-of-a-kind T-shirts usually have knee-slappers written on them like: “Come to Uncle Lester’s, where everybody gets a piece of carc-ass.”

Yes, we love restaurants that are worn and weathered. Tried and true. The real McCoy. They make us feel original.

It’s too bad most of them aren’t.

In reality, many popular grub shacks are new construction built to look like they’ve been beaten down over the years by thousands of good-timing patrons who ate too much, drank too much, laughed too loud, danced on tables and enjoyed countless care-free evenings there.

Truth is, these places are as phony as a brand new pair of jeans with pre-faded thighs and pre-ripped knees.

They have to pre-etch the walls and the tables with phrases like, “your mama was here,” “no she wasn’t” and “Dave rulez” so the lack of respect toward this “rough” establishment looks authentic. They have to get stock photos of bikers drinking in a parking lot to hang over the bar so people know it has street credit. To make sure customers feel they’re in experienced hands, otherwise sweet waitresses are trained to act like they’ve been getting just enough in lousy tips for the last 25 years to afford a one-bedroom apartment and two packs of USA Gold 100s a day.

They have to fake being what real bars and restaurants have always tried not to become, but many are – dives.

Like most people don’t want to break in a pair of jeans because it takes time and – God forbid – the regular course of life, most people don’t want to eat at real dives. That’s because the rude waitresses are really rude and the bad lighting is really bad. Not to mention the bathrooms are probably gross and so is the kitchen.

That’s uncomfortable.

But the wings are great. So are the burgers. And a few people get used to the questionable smells and the waitresses’ bad attitudes in a dive because some of the food is good, the drinks are cheap and they don’t have to wait long for either. After a while, the surroundings – the staff, the bathrooms, the cruddy juke-box – grow on them. They eventually become regulars, a comfort they had to suffer for.

So, while it may be a dive, it’s now “their” dive. And the name there probably isn’t all that snappy (Lester’s BBQ). The menu may only have one “world famous” special, (Lester’s Gristle Whistle – 16 or 20 ounce) instead of 33. The only clothes they’ll consider selling at Lester’s are in the lost and found. Nobody recommends the shrimp cocktail there. And if you throw any peanut shells on the floor, someone will make you clean them up.

If there were a shirt, it might say “Lester’s – it’s taken a lot of special people to make a special place this crappy.”

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