We were ready for anything.
Derby de Mayo, two quintessential American drinking holidays rolled in one. Chance of rain...but our competition was a rooftop party, so there was that. Plus we had tacos on the menu. Derby Day was our best party. Always had been. Here was our chance to jumpstart our game, remind people that we were open again, act of god averted.
Crushed ice filling both wells. Mint chilled and set in hot water to stay flush through the afternoon. Julep cups stacked behind us instead of coupes. Ten bottles of Elijah Craig and mint syrup in the keg charged and tested.
Ready to go.
The TV was secure atop the server cabinet, streaming pre-race babble. Tables pushed back against the brick wall, chairs and stools removed. Standing room only. Last year was so crowded the chairs became a problem.
Menus printed, POS programmed, empanadas tasted.
Goddamn, chef! So good.
Sell tacos. If you can sell out tacos...
How many you got? A hundred?
Heard, chef. Sell a hundred tacos. The rest are mine.
Jaunty music from the speakers, the boss perched at the end of the bar with his husband, nursing a julep.
The first guests trickled in wearing gaudy hats and bowties.
Draft juleps all around. Cups lined up, mint leaves added, tug tug tug the keg handle. A scoop of ice, plunge and roll the barspoon between palms spinning ice and liquor until the sides frost up, topped with fresh ice and a mint sprig slapped against the palm. Service!
I kept checking my watch. Still early yet. The race itself wasn't for another couple hours. But the room felt huge, with pockets of guests sipping juleps here and there taking selfies with each other. Subdued. Empty.
Was it paranoia? Was impatience getting the best of me?
Around five o'clock we cut the server and she left, not even sticking around for a few juleps and tacos. I understood how she felt. She'd traded a shift at her new job to come help. And for what?
I cleared another set of plates and greeted another couple in the door. The skies were gloomy but the rain had pattered itself out by noon. This was it. No one else was coming.
I swizzled myself another tequila julep.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the triumph of the underdog. Mexico was 40 years old when Zaragoza defeated the French at Puebla.
The Rogue Gentlemen was 4 years old when the pipe burst and plunged the restaurant into six weeks of lights out. That's usually fatal in this business.
Picture Dickensian snowfall under the streetlight, spectral figures drifting from Ubers to the door and looking through the glass on shadows within, shelves cleared and lined up on the bar, chairs and stools and tables stacked, paintcans and equipment strewn about the floor.
Closed? Are they closed for good? What's the website say?
Just a little longer. Please excuse our construction mess.
Well...let's go somewhere else then.
Weeks passed and snow fell and Richmond moved on.
But it's springtime now and rising from the icy ashes is Rogue. Streamlined. Stronger. With better chairs.
We're back. Come see us.