Monday, December 17, 2007

The Mystery of Gabby's

Once in a while, you see an establishment so weird you just have to stop and wonder why it even exists. We found one a while ago. Eric and I were on our way to Psycho Suzi's to get a pizza (I'd recommend the Suzi Quatro - spinach and white wine sauce), driving down Marshall in Northeast. Looming on our left, a huge illuminated sign bearing a caricature of Gabby Hayes, the cowboy movie sidekick noted for saying stuff like "Flim-flam wrackin-frackin gol durn whippersnapper!" Below it, a second sign reading "Gabby's Saloon and Eatery."
Yep, somewhere back in the mists of time (probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 1975, judging by the architecture) someone thought it would be a great idea to build a restaurant concept around a b-movie character actor. If this happened today, there would probably be Seann William Scott "Stifler's" chicken wing joints in every tourist trap.

Disapppointingly, once you're inside, Gabby's looks more like a 70's rec room than an excursion into high-plains Hollywood kitsch. It's all barnwood panelling and beer signs, and is full of chubby hip-hoppers eating cheese curds and drinking Miller. I have to wonder how they decided to adopt this place as their own: it doesn't exactly scream 'urban'. But then, who should hang out in Gabby's? Grizzled 49'ers? Discarded cinematic sidekicks? Thuggy kids in logos or wholesome white-hat heroes? Does Gabby's really 'fit' anyone living in 2007, or does its nonsensical quality make it the perfect anonymous dive?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

O, Canada

No offense MPLS, but I seriously miss living so close to Canada. With Windsor 20 minutes away, I used to be able to consider myself semi-Canadian. From a geopolitical standpoint, I'd prefer to still think so, but it's harder to rationalize living five hours from the border. I don't get back nearly often enough, but I did this week, flying to Toronto for a couple days' business. I got to hear people say "aboot" and "eh" a lot, which always warms my heart, and got my stash of Coffee Crisps from Shopper's Drug Mart. I also got a fresh Molson. This is practically impossible in Minneapolis. I don't understand why you can get Stella Artois on tap in every bar in town, but not Molson or Labatt's... it's simply wrong.

On this trip, I think I found my all-time favorite hotel. The Drake, on Queen Street West, is an example of fun, innovative interior design without affectation. I got the smallest room, a so-called 'Crash Pad', which is reasonably priced and cleverly designed. Rooms are contemporary but comfortable, and almost all the furniture is built-in, with shelves that can be folded up out of the way if not needed. The bath is built tidily into one wall, concealed by frosted glass partitions. Instead of the usual hotel mags directing you to theme restaurants and overwrought boutiques, you get local gallery guides, Artforum, and a novel with some literary merit (in my case, Rebecca Gowers' "When to Walk"). They have a great bar and cafe downstairs, and vintage photo booth in the lobby. The staff are friendly and accomodating, but not overbearing. Apparently, the Drake is popular with bands, which was confimed when I heard someone in a neighboring room playing Spoon. This makes perfect sense: it's cool but not too cool to be comfortable, and captures the character of its city and neighborhood.

Other favorite hotels:
The Pelham in South Kensington, London. Small, quiet, comfortable, and very English, it's conveniently situated right near the V&A and the tube. Great service, too, the Pelham pushed it over the top when they brought me real tea and a copy of the Independent when I woke up. When you start out happy, the rest of your day goes much better, even if it involves going to Slough. The Pelham realizes this.

The Intercontinental Kowloon in Hong Kong.
The lobby bar is gorgeous, with a panoramic view of the harbor. Rooms are tasteful and large, with a heavenly bathroom and a tub you can soak in up to your neck. The pool and spa are fantastic. The Intercontinental has an insane breakfast buffet, included in the price of the room, that manages to meet the needs of a truly global clientele: Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and western-style foods are all available, so you can have congee, curry and waffles, if it grabs you.

How to do a pretentious hotel:
Last spring, on our annual LA jaunt, we stayed in the Viceroy in Santa Monica, site of several recent celebutard meltowns. I was disappointed for a couple of reasons: first, nobody ran over a paparazzo's foot with a Mercedes while I was there, and second, I could never escape the fact that it was once some generic chain hotel. The rooms had that same stale layout. The atmosphere was LA in the worst way: the staff seemed to be uninterested unless you were 'somebody.' You can tart it up in all the trendy black/white/citron wallpaper and faux-Georgian china and furniture you want, it's still a Ramada at heart.

Drake Hotel
Pelham Hotel
Intercontinental Kowloon

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