Last Saturday, my college friend Russ was in town from Colorado for his bachelor party. It was awfully nice of Russ to select his Bay Area friends to host his bachelor party over his pockets of friends in Colorado, Southern California, and the Pacific Northwest. Take that, Portland! Then again, for all I know he had multiple bachelor parties. Maybe Russ was two-timing us. But why would he bother — how could anyone throw a better bachelor party than a collection of Harvey Mudd alumni? Damn skippy.
I arrived at dinnertime. Russ and the rest of the gang had been paintballing earlier that day, as evidenced by numerous welts. I asked where we were going for dinner. “Ciao Bella,” said Kevin, our ringleader. Ciao Bella? “It’s a restaurant up in Ben Lomond where the waitresses do cute little dances and sing songs and stuff. I’ve ridden up there on my bike before. It’s fun.”
What I thought was, “Hmmm. So we’re going to go to some dingy biker nudie bar in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Greeaat.” Of course I didn’t say that — I covered by saying, “Hmmm. So what kind of food do they serve?” Russ and Kevin gave me a funny look. Ciao Bella. Aha… I’m guessing, like, Italian food or something.
Fortunately, Ciao Bella turned out to not be a dingy biker nudie bar. Ciao Bella is a little hard to describe, actually.
There’s a genre of Restaurants That Have Crap on the Walls: Chili’s, Applebee’s, TGI Friday’s, and so on. Each of these franchises has a contract with the Wall Crap Factory in Schenectady, which churns out vast quantities of wall crap for each franchise: wacky pictures, plastic animal heads, snow globes, beach paraphernalia, and so on. Each restaurant can therefore cover the surface area of its walls with the precise fraction of wall crap that has been scientifically determined to provide a “fun” and “kitsch” atmosphere without going overboard and looking unclean or threatening.
Well, Ciao Bella has no problem with appearing unclean or threatening; the entire restaurant is slathered in wall crap several layers thick. A dusty 60s-era TV facing a 30-year-old bench car seat (with seat belts), a white porcelain sink used as an ashtray, a golden statue of a man wearing fins on his feet… and that’s just in the tiny outside smoking area. A narrow 4′ x 1.5′ slit in the wall connects the smoking area to the kitchen, presumably so that the staff can sneak out for quick smoke breaks. Maybe smoking keeps you skinny after all.
The entirely female wait staff can be described as “perky, athletic Goth.” There was nothing nudie bar about them, other than the fact that each waitress had a cute nickname such as “Tiger” or “Peanut”. Our waitress’s nom du service was “Agent 99″. There were a couple of male busboys that looked more yuppie than the waitresses: conservative haircuts, button down shirts, and no visible jewelry. However, at least one of the busboys had an elaborate sun tattoo peeking above his collar on the back of his neck, so I don’t think they’re fooling anybody.
Although the food was Spaghetti Factory-ish, the table wine was good. As it turned out, I should have ordered more wine, as Kevin generously picked up the tab. And the entertainment and atmosphere was top notch. As Kevin had advertised, every once in a while a waitress would spontaneously start singing — something in Italian, a song from a musical, a pop song. They had very nice voices that carried well through the restaurant. We were also treated to an energetic dance routine involving all the waitresses and Tad, the owner. We didn’t bring any cameras, but fortunately the SAGA North Ski and Snowboard club did take a couple of pictures last year, so you can get the general idea. On our particular evening, Tad was wearing shiny blue metallic shorts with some sort of garter belt contraption. And, as we discovered, red metallic thong underwear.
As the evening came to a close, Agent 99 offered to sign our wine cork for us, but we insisted that she sign our bachelor instead. “Agent 99 was here.” She gamely tried, but the thing about guys is… well, guys are hairy. Throughout our teens and twenties we grow progressively hairier — as teenagers, we think this is a good thing, but soon enough we start hoping that we hit a certain acceptable level of hairyness and then stop. Unfortunately, Russ shot past this level at about the age of fourteen. Agent 99 was therefore unable to sign Russ, not even with a Sharpie. She complained that her pen was inadequate to the task, but I think it’s a poor artist who blames her tools. We suggested that she try signing Russ’s (slightly less hairy) forehead, but spoilsport Russ mentioned something about an upcoming wedding and photographs and stuff. What-ever.
We then bid arrivederci to Ciao Bella and headed back down the mountain to San Jose. I have to admit that this made me sad — I had a bit of a crush on Agent 99, but she’s an alternative Santa Cruz Mountains type and I’m a straightlaced Silicon Valley nerd type, so there you have it. Now — I’m willing to grant that A) God exists and B) He has a wicked sense of humor. In fact, I’m convinced of both. However, God’s wicked sense of humor does not extend to Wacky Romantic Comedy, and for that reason Agent 99 and I would never work out.
The next stop was Sugars in San Jose, which is kind of like Hooters, but with coffee. I was of two minds about this. On the one hand, as most of my friends know, I’m a bonafide lefty feminist. On the other hand, I also like underdogs. Apparently the neighbors and the city hate Sugars and are trying to put it out of business through the usual methods: abusive code inspections, overly-conscientious OSHA reviews, and so on. If a man has a dream, and that dream involves having scantily-clad women serving coffee, who am I to stand in the way?
Sugars turned out to be a hole with techno music blaring, filled with assorted beady-eyed San Jose scuzzoids and creepos. Gang tattoos abounded on both the patrons and wait staff. The waitresses were friendly enough, but their outfits (red tanktops and black short-short-shorts) were extremely unflattering even in dim light. The four dollar coffee was mediocre but served in small portions. Our waitress gave us a pack of unpleasantly sticky cards, and so the six of us huddled around our table, drank our one coffee, and played a Russian card game. I actually didn’t do too badly at this new card game — maybe because I was focusing intently on the cards. Or maybe it was because I’m part Russian. At midnight, my fellow San Jose scuzzoids and I slunk out of Sugars in search of new entertainment.
We eventually found ourselves at South First Billiards. I’ve been there a couple of times, and I’m always surprised at how clean and well-lit and airy and spacious it is. Most of the tables were occupied, but the architecture of the place is such that it didn’t look that way. Hmmm. I just dunno how I feel about a pool hall where the air is clean, where the waitress brings you beer promptly and with a smile, and where you’re not constantly bumping the people at the next table with your cue.
After a few games of pool, it was about that time where the SJPD starts marshalling in force to clear out the downtown area. So it was home again, home again, jiggety-jig for us. Overall, I had a good time. But of course I don’t get out much. In any case, here’s hoping Russ had a good time too — and I wish him and his bride-to-be Holly all my best. Next time you’re in town, Russ, we’ll get you some better coffee. And maybe we’ll find a waitress with one of them NASA pens.