King me, baby

Welcome to Kings here on 46th and Grand. I’ll be your server/bartender for the evening. We just opened, this past Saturday, and it’s something of a dream come true for a kid who grew up in South Minneapolis before it was sectioned off into enemy camps named Kingfield, Lynnhurst, etc. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for most of my life, and I’ve always wished for a corner pub where everybody knows your name, an oasis from the stasis, a soft place to fall.

King me, baby.  

My new gig comes on the heels of me working at the Metrodome and Target Center, selling beer, pop, pretzels and popcorn to the masses. Alas, the most interesting tidbits I can report are that drunk baseball fans do not like to be carded, and Jonas Brothers fans and their daughters expect refills on soda pop, which leads me to believe that they spend much of their leisure time in establishments that give soda pop refills as a rule, which leads me to believe that they live on a different planet than I do.

It also comes on the heels of a funeral I attended recently for a young man who died much too soon, but who found family in the restaurant and bar world. When he died, his bar went down with him, and his found family was instantly “scattered to the wind,” as one of his heartbroken employees told me. Which is to say that, perhaps more than any other venture, bars and restaurants form insta-families: you go through hell together — lunch or dinner or post-bar rush — then have a smoke or a drink at the end of the night and get up and do it all over again.

See those two? Over there in the wine room? That’s Sam and Molly. They’re the owners. Sisters. The other night after we locked up, and as I was resting my feet and counting my tips after the first day of business, I saw them hug behind the bar. Molly whispered something to Sam, probably something about what a long road it’s been and other sisterly stuff. Sweet.

Over there is Pete; he’s the chef. I tell everyone he’s a genius, because of the super savory menu he’s whipped up (the fried green tomato BLT, the short ribs, the salmon and the tater tots are personal favorites), and because whenever I go back in the kitchen, he and his team are working their tails off in cramped quarters, beads of sweat pooling on their brows, and looking not unlike the submarine crew in Das Boot during the depth charge scenes.

Over there are your bartenders for the evening, Marc and the two Johns. Like all great bartenders, they know their craft and make everything better. Over there is (Thin) Lizzy, the one with the tattoos crawling up and down her spine. She’s a young old school punk from Los Angeles. Next to her is Kevin, who spent the last 12 years in Sweden singing in punk bands. The first day he and John met, they went to a party with a bunch of naked wrestling men and John ended up with a huge gash on his forehead. He showed it to me the first day we met. Family, like that.  

We’re trying to make it happen, and the neighborhood has been responding. People love having a place to hang out past 10 o’clock in the city that always sleeps. I’ll be working  three nights a week, but have mercy on me, the newbie, because I’m still getting up to speed. I worked in bars/restaurants back in the day, including the Red Barn, The Brothers, D.B. Kaplan’s and Mount Sinai Hospital, but it’s been a while, and all my previous experience was as a cook.

So I can’t say I know everything about the culinary arts or wine or the art of serving, but if you’re interested, I can riff on the differences between Joseph Campbell and Joseph Arthur (not much); what I’m reading (a Raymond Carver collection and “The Art Of Subtext” by Charles Baxter); movie and music recommendations (“Quiet Chaos” and Joe Henry’s new “Blood From Stars”); and if we’re slow I can bend your ear with stories like the one my friend Stook! told me the other night while we were making some music together.

I was telling him about my new job, which got us to talking about first and worst jobs. He won, hands down. He worked in a foundry in his hometown of Auburn, Indiana. The day he started, the foreman told him, “Look. Every guy in this place hates your guts because they know how you got the job — through your daddy. So the only way you’ll survive is if I put you on the worst job in the place. Not only is it the worst job here, but it’s the worst job within 300 miles of here. But if you can do it, you can do anything.”

He did it. Two summers. Every day, he worked on a line pouring molten liquid metal into a mold, chopping off the excess with a sledge hammer and tossing the remaining metal chunks out. He did that all in one motion, eight hours a day, and walked out of the place every day with his pink-white skin “pitch black.” Still, it was a plumb job for anyone who got it, because it paid $40,000 a year with retirement at age 45 and full pension: There is next-to no turnover in the place.  

“The only reason I got that job,” said Stook!, “was because the guy who had it before me was the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and he went to jail.”

Anyway, I’ll fetch you some bread and water, and then we can talk about getting you something to drink. Welcome to the family.

Jim Walsh grew up and lives in East Harriet.