I have a generally high tolerance for risk, at least where food and drink are concerned. In college, I survived weekly doses of (Greek organization name redacted) Death Punch: full-sugar fruit punch powder, any alcohol my buddies had at hand (brown or clear, it made no difference), and Everclear. This led to my superpower: I know when a drink is spiked with Everclear because my nose goes numb.
I’ve gotten food poisoning at least once in the two decades I’ve been a professional eater. Maybe it’s the iron stomach or my double-strength bile and excessive spleen, but most enteric bacteria appear to be a little afraid of me. Between that, doing time as a shucker in an oyster bar in my 20s, and regular visits to the old Pour House downtown, I think I may be immune to many things.
But now that we’re faced with a respiratory virus that can make a person sick if you cough three tables away and the AC is blowing just right, well, let’s just say that I’m nervous. One of the biggest pleasures of my life is sitting on a patio during happy hour, drinking and consuming mindless calories. Rogers Roundhouse (1616 Rogers Rd, Fort Worth, 817-367-9348), I miss your loaded tots and your $4 well drinks.
We’re crawling toward reopening our restaurants and bars –– apparently crawling way too slowly for a certain subset of the population. The Texas Restaurant Promise, brought to you by the Texas Restaurant Association, is a combination of best practice suggestions and wild hope. Masks for staff are not mandatory –– despite the evidence that masks keep saliva and goobers in. However, social distancing (in lines and at tables), “health checks” for employees, and sanitizing stations, plus disposable menus and cutlery and single-use condiments, are recommended. As I perused this document, I realized that there are things I will never miss at a restaurant again, including salt shakers and the sneeze-guarded salad bars. All this, of course, is voluntary. No restaurant has to comply with any of these best practices.
My spawn recently pleaded for pizza from Cane Rosso (815 W Magnolia Av, 817-922-9222), and picking up the pie gave me the chance to see some of The Promise in action last weekend. Cane’s patio is open, although there was only one table of two women, deep into their bottle of wine and their cell phones, during the dinner “rush.” One side of the patio was closed. The chairs had been tipped forward against the tables –– an average-sized kindergartener could have “opened” that side of the restaurant. The mask-wearing staff intervened as I opened the door and requested that I hang out on the patio while awaiting dinner, so I couldn’t see if there was any hand sanitizer about. Although we few folks gathered to pick up our takeout had definitely staggered ourselves, there was no enforcement of social distancing while waiting in line.
But another Magnolia Ave property consumed all my bandwidth this week. Local critics fell all over themselves before The Southside Rambler (1264 W Magnolia Av, 682-255-5442) actually opened, and the bar/restaurant’s delayed opening week was eventful, with some critics complaining that it was more bar than restaurant. Given the breadth of the menu, that complaint seems frivolous. The Rambler is co-owned by Julia and Kevin von Ehrenfried, who also co-own Arlington’s Tipsy Oak (301 E Front St, 817-962-0304). As it happens, before Julia locked down her Facebook page to public view, it was loaded with posts about her disbelief in vaccines, her views about public health’s jurisdiction in individual lives, and whether COVID-19 precautions are necessary for months. And that became cause for discussion in the context of opening her restaurant. In contrast, Kevin’s FB page mostly promotes the Rambler and Tipsy Oak.
Though Julia’s page is not currently public, she lists herself as “Epidemiologist, Sales Superstar, Credit Expert, Entrepreneur, Science Geek [and] Brand Ambassador.” I am too lazy to look up a claim that someone graduated with a degree in epidemiology. Also, an epidemiology degree and $4 still won’t buy me a cocktail at the Rambler.
Apparently, the polarizing commentary about Julia’s personal views reverberated through the Fairmount ’hood, and the ugly rhetoric caused one of the unofficial neighborhood FB gathering sites to go on hiatus. The official Fairmount National Historic Site FB page remains blessedly free of unpleasant commentary, although the site is touting its Facemasks of Fairmount event.
The siren call of the patio is proving irresistible to many of us, and the Rambler, in the location formerly occupied by La Zona, has a gorgeous, partly covered gem of an outside seating area. When I swooped by for some takeout, I noted that the Rambler’s patio was about two-thirds full with very little social distancing between tables. Unlike the patio at Cane Rosso, there was no attempt at creating any kind of distancing. When I walked into the empty dining room, none of the staffers were wearing masks. Most had not mastered the 6-feet-apart stance yet. However, there was an industrial-sized jug of hand sanitizer by the door and another at the bar.
This past weekend, the Rambler made itself popular with locals wanting a bit of sun and some live music in the evening. Locals who live nearby got a crash course in the finer points of the city’s noise ordinance, which limits the sonic volume coming out of a business after 10pm to 70 decibels, roughly the noise made by a household vacuum cleaner. Of course, Fort Worth police had bigger fish to fry.
Should an establishment owner’s personal beliefs interfere with his or her business? Ask Carlo Galotto. The former owner of Zio Carlo’s (now Fort Brewery) said some allegedly drunk and disorderly things in 2011 and doubled down with an I’m-not-really-sorry apology. You can learn a lot about someone by what they say when they think only their friends are listening.
On May 24, The Southside Rambler’s FB post read, “We are, as always, taking every single health precaution, based on science and facts, to keep ourselves, our Staff [sic] and guests safe. Health and safety is always our number one concern, along with our food and customer service.”
I’d like to believe that restaurant managers value their employees and want them to be healthy and working. Ultimately, I am saddened that these days, the health and wellness decisions for servers are based on hope, and not in their own hands.
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