Let’s talk a little about pretentiousness. At some joints, you expect it. Like at Reata Rooftop, Michael’s Ancho Chile Bar, and other hoity-toity hang-outs. Too many of their staffers and regulars (not all of them!) are accustomed to putting on appearances either to maintain or establish standing in society. How much money you make, what kind of car you drive, how many important names you can drop, all that crap – it’s important to these kinds of folks, even if they hate it.
Other times, pretentiousness wears a prettier, more devious guise, specifically that of, well, non-pretentiousness.
The 817 has a few places that fit the bill, but the one that immediately comes to mind (probably ’cause I just went there) is the beloved Caves Lounge. The décor isn’t the problem. With a tattoo-parlor vibe, the Arlington hole in the wall is like The Wreck Room but with newer furniture. The jukebox and the service, though …
First of all, there isn’t any local music on the juke (at least none I’d ever heard of), which is a damn, dirty shame, especially for an allegedly independent ma-and-pa bar in a metropolitan region with one of the most vibrant indie music scenes in the country. Also, when you consider that some of Caves’ customers are probably local musicians, the oversight is downright disgraceful.
Worse, most of the choices are semi-obscure major-label bands, none of them really any better or worse than Tarrant County’s best hipster groups (Stella Rose, Modico, The Theater Fire, Tame … Tame and Quiet, Incendiary, Bosque Brown, Valhalla, The Red Herrings, Best Fwends). My regret is that I didn’t check the selections before I fed the machine three dollars. Not only were my choices limited to hipper-than-thou establishment crap, but none of my tunes played, even after an hour. Maybe they would have if scary-oke hadn’t started, but it did, and I had to skedaddle. In case you’re wondering, yes, I took my three dollars out of the bartender’s tip.
Which brings me to Point No. 2: On my first trip to the empty bar counter, I had to stand with my hands in my pockets for, no kidding, five minutes before one of the three – count ‘em, three – people behind the bar even acknowledged me. The service was decent from then on, but still. If getting to the joint hadn’t been such a pain in the butt (totally my fault) and if I didn’t have three guests with me, I would have beat a retreat four and half minutes earlier. (“What? Am I on a %#!$-ing pay-no-mind list, kid?!”)
As for the crowd, who knows. I guess they were OK, just everyday hipsters in black, but there was this one jerk whose empty seat I accidentally stood in front of while waiting to order. Once I noticed him behind me, I turned and apologized nicely. He didn’t respond. Didn’t even look at me. Well, screw you, too, buddy.
At Michael’s, outsiders go in expecting to feel out of place. If the regulars and staff don’t recognize you, then you’re obviously not worth knowing, and most of us simply look like we don’t belong. (I guess the torn jeans, flip-flops, and t-shirts give us away.) At a self-proclaimed egalitarian dive like Caves, however, we should all feel welcome, even the most arrogant trust-fund Biffster. What explains my being treated like a second-class citizen? I’m one of y’all!
The moral of the story: When you try too hard to not appear pretentious, you become the very thing you are trying to avoid. As Henry Wotton says in Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”
At Caves on the night of my visit, some of the employees were wearing Ozzie Rabbit Lodge t-shirts. Apparently, the name refers to a hang-out that’s about to open nearby in the space formerly occupied by the dearly departed Power Plant. The forces behind the Ozzie Rabbit are Caves’ co-owners. Brothers Eric and Tom Osbakken took over the vacant spot this past summer and plan to open next month. Since the Ozzie Rabbit’s vibe is supposed to be different from Caves, the Osbakkens are looking to run a shuttle between the clubs during peak hours. Don’t mind me if I stay planted like a carrot at the new joint.
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