Monday, July 30, 2007

Steak stupidity

When I see a restaurant that's gone out of business, it usually strikes me as sad. I mean, someone poured all their hopes and all their dreams -- and probably all their money -- into that establishment, betting that with a handful of good recipes and a lot of hard work they could write their own American success story. But, as happens with most new restaurants, the place eventually brought in more bills than customers. Unable to tread water, the owner sold off the equipment and pulled the plug on his dream. So sad -- but like I said, usually.

Then there are those times when all it takes is one look at a boarded-up restaurant to make my lip curl into a sneer, and I laugh contemptuously and spit out, "Serves them right." Such was my reaction when I first saw the closed Texas Cattle Co. restaurant on Merle Hay Road, just north of the mall. And it's all because of the sign over the door:

"No Ties Allowed," it says, below a pair of cartoon scissors hacking off a cartoon necktie.

No ties allowed. Oh, really. And why is that? Let me guess: Because this is supposed to be a casual, laid-back, fun-loving place, right? Because the kind of people who wear neckties are always uptight and snooty and not the kind of down-to-earth people you want at your authentic "family steak house" out by Burlington Coat Factory and the Hobby Lobby, right?

And because nothing encourages customers to leave their stresses outside quite like a pissy sign over the door announcing a dress code.

A truly casual, laid-back restaurant opens its doors and says "come one, come all." Whether you're in jacket and tie or jeans and tennies, you're invited to drop in, pull up a chair and stuff your sinuses with food. No one gives you a hard time if you're wearing a tie or if you're not wearing a tie -- because that's what it means to be a casual, laid-back restaurant. There's no dress code, either prescriptive or restrictive. Just friendly service and decent food.

Texas Cattle Co., on the other hand, announced that neckties just don't fit in. Oh, I don't think there was actually a ban on neckties. But I'm pretty sure the place was set up to make a big, stupid fuss whenever a fellow from Charles Gabus Ford up the road came by for dinner and forgot to take off his tie after a ten-hour day on the sales floor. And, after being razzed stupidly for the faux pas of wearing the tie that his job requires him to wear, he smiled resentfully but manfully, left a 10% tip and decided never to come back to this phony grubhole.

And that phoniness is the ultimate irony here, isn't it? The "No Ties Allowed" ethos, ostensibly a swipe at pretense, is itself pretentious by several orders of magnitude.

Something tells me the "Texas Cattle Co." -- which I assume specialized in 16-ounce steaks burned to a crisp and served with an enormous basket of home fries -- wasn't likely to have a problem with High Society types coming in and killing the atmosphere, regardless of what the sign over the door said. All the sign did was make people self-conscious and encourage them to go three blocks up Merle Hay to the Ground Round, or three blocks farther to the Perkins, or another mile or so to the North End Diner. Hell, two miles north takes you to Trostel's Greenbriar, where you actually can see people in ties dining alongside people in shorts and T-shirts, and everybody gets along.

So the Texas Cattle Co. went out of business just like everything else that once existed at its location (including the Pumpers nightclub, which shut down after the bouncers killed a guy for partying while black). Today there is a for-lease sign out by the road and weeds a foot high growing through cracks in the pavement of the parking lot. And watching silently over it all is that big, proud, dumb sign saying: "Your tie isn't welcome here, nor is your business."

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