I had heard all of the stories about Ovation, about how the restaurant was a physical manifestation of “Why can’t we all get along?” writ large, courtesy of executive chef Keith Hicks’ excellent gourmet soul food; live jazz and blues; dark, warm, and understated décor; and a regular clientele of ethnically diverse locals.

But I wanted to see for myself. So a friend and I swung by on a Friday night and learned Lesson No. 1: Make reservations. The place was packed.

Lesson No. 2: Dress to impress. My friend and I weren’t poorly dressed, but compared to the other, finely dudded-up folks also waiting for tables, we were paupers. Lesson No. 3: If you go in on a crowded evening and notice only one bartender behind the bar, you’d better not be thirsty. For the record, however, the guy who served us busted his hump, mixing and shaking cocktails, having orders screamed at him from unnecessarily loud and rude customers, and, perhaps worst of all, trying to navigate a small bar behind which also lurked the solidly built Hicks. Wearing a shirt that declared “CHEF” and a nearly spotless apron, the CHEF spent what must have been his entire break chatting up customers and being his jolly ol’ self. (Is it me, or has the advent of celebrity chefs presaged a new age in which cooking well is just one of several skills that must be mastered before achieving “executive” status? I thought chefs were supposed to revel in their anonymity, an anonymity tinged with an air of mystery, much like, say, a famous Hollywood director or a bass player in a famous rock band or some other behind-the-scenes player. At least Hicks has the culinary chops to match his, um, choppers.) Lesson No. 4: Make sure you know who’s playing before you go and bring earplugs. We had the bad luck to catch a funky but otherwise forgettable band that was a little too loud, especially for a classy restaurant. Worse, most of the customers kept yapping away, which only added to the din.

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Before long, my friend and I wanted some peace and quiet. Naturally, we headed across the way to the Ridglea Theater, a gigantic rock club but one that has some nooks and crannies of quietude. The scenery there wasn’t as racially dynamic – nothing but vanilla for miles – but at a certain point at one of the club’s many bar counters, the bartenders outnumbered the customers, which is always a good thing.
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