Flame Out

Maybe Robert Ramirez should have named his new Oak Cliff restaurant the Twilight Zone.

Ramirez's efforts to open the Twilight Café, a bizarre saga that resulted in an ethics complaint and the resignation of Dallas plan commissioner David Spence after he improperly used his city title to get a copy of Ramirez's liquor license application, came to an end last week. At 6:58 a.m. on--appropriately enough--Friday the 13th, Ramirez's cafe went up in a two-alarm blaze that needed 10 fire trucks and 40 firefighters to extinguish. When it was out, there were $330,000 in damages, and Ramirez's brand-new business, located at 400 W. Davis St., was gone. By 4 p.m., so was Ramirez. As television cameramen trampled through the charred remains of the cafe, Ramirez was downing shots of tequila just up the street at Tillman's Corner. "I'm fucked," Ramirez kept saying. "I'm totally fucked."

Ah, sweet tequila--mother's milk for the truly screwed.

As Ramirez drank, rumors began flying that an arsonist was at work. Buzz would like to report that the gossips can cease their chatter: Dallas fire officials have officially determined the fire was an accident caused by an electrical short in the attic.

At Tillman's, Ramirez received visits from an endless string of friends, customers and neighbors--including Spence--who showed up to express their sympathy and offer their help. When you reopen, some of them said, it'll be even better. Ramirez just shook his head. The trouble wasn't just the fire; he had no insurance on the business. Ramirez stuck a lime in his mouth, downed another shot and then sat quietly for a moment. After a while, he sighed. "There is no success," he said.

A fire, a hangover and existential angst. Yeesh, poor bastard. If nothing else, Ramirez can take comfort from the fact that once you hit bottom, there's no place to go but up. That was the gist of proprietor Sarah Tillman's parting words to Ramirez. As his wife (with baby) dragged him home, Tillman instructed him to take two aspirin, drink a glass of water and sleep. She then swore that things wouldn't seem so bad when he woke.

That's good advice, and maybe even true once the hangover fades, but Ramirez probably won't remember it.


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