Figure out how to blow $30,000 at a dive bar: That was the direction of my editor, as he instant-messaged me a link to Leslie Brenner's recent story in FD Luxe, headlined, "Restaurant critic Leslie Brenner blows the cost of a small Mercedes on the most expensive meal in Dallas."
"If FD Luxe can Goddamn afford it we can Goddamn afford it," my editor G-howled. I thought that was weird, since he'd recently sold my cubicle for scraps, but I Goddamn went for it.
Choosing the destination wasn't difficult: The Lakewood Landing, Dallas' only "upscale dive," is the place for discerning beer swillers, and I have become increasingly devoted to their burgers, wings and nachos in recent years. The problem was chipping away at the cost of a new small-but-loaded SUV $5-$10 at a time. Brenner's meal featured unbridled opulence; my accomplishment would have to be one of mindless repetition.
Brenner invited seven guests to dine with her to help inch up the bill, and this is where the Landing would give me a modest advantage. There are 14 barstools wrapped around the L-shaped bar at this East Dallas dive. I could grab one of the center stools and announce to the unsuspecting regulars they were in for a wild ride. I talked with one of the bartenders there to lay out my game plan.
"Bulleit Rye is $6.50 a shot," he told me, so I planned on starting the whole escapade with 35 rounds, neat, for everyone sitting at the bar. I wasn't going to remember any of this, and I wanted to make sure no one else would either. For snacking while shot-taking, I would order 100 baskets of chips and salsa. As I talked with the bartender a few locals at the bar leaned inward. I let them know my editor had yet to cut the check.
And then I tried to envision the spectacle of 500 baskets of extra spicy chicken wings emerging from the kitchen. Prince's "Purple Rain" would pour from the jukebox as they stacked on the bar in slow motion, filling the dining room with a noxious vapor. I was concerned. At 20 wings a basket it would be like a leftover canister of mustard gas from World War I had been set off and left in one of the booths. My disloyal companions might run for the door, their faces pink, and wet with tears and snot. I worried I'd lose them. But then I looked up and down the length of The Landing's bar top and felt renewed resolve. If anyone one could hang through 10,000 chicken wings, these guys could do it.
Our faces painted red with hot sauce, in a haze of boozy meat sweat, we'd then tear into 500 cheeseburgers with bacon, and basket after basket of onion rings. We'd not eat them all, that would be impossible, so we'd stuff what we couldn't ingest into the crevices of the bar furniture. Onion rings would hang from every fixture and dangle from our ears. And then, as the clock struck 11 p.m., we'd collectively groan as we saw the finish line on the horizon.
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It would all come down to those infamous late-night corn dogs. Whether we made it to $28,000 and only needed to inch forward or come up hopelessly short, we would make up the difference with an army of jalapeño corn dogs. Even if we were unable to consume a single granule of cornmeal we would make up the different hurling steaming hot corndogs at the cars on La Vista Avenue. This would be easy, I thought, picturing my new compatriots departing in victory: a procession of cars driving backwards and sideways, fading into the darkness as they crushed golden corndogs on the street.
Back in my office, I tallied up my estimate to show my editor. With tax and tip the bill came to $26,017.84. If you add in the $4,000 in damage we would probably inflict, either to the bar itself or other cars as we exited the lot, we'd come in just over the goal.
By then, though, my editor had bothered to actually read Brenner's story, only at the end of which is it revealed that, no, despite the headline, she didn't actually spend anything. It was a "fantasy" meal, apparently; the only thing it cost was the headline writer's dignity.
Luckily I had only planned my meal, not paid for it. I handed him an expense report with my real tab, for the four-dollar Budweiser I'd sipped while I interviewed the bartender. He threw it in the Goddamn trash.