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Okay, so it's not very often that I come down on the same side intellectually and ideologically as the folks from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. As a matter of fact, it's not very often that I can stand to be in the same room with any of them for more than, say, ten minutes without wanting to strangle them, myself or one of whatever animal they're defending that week. But when it comes to fish restaurants in aquariums (like Aquarium, see review), it seems that PETA and I have reached a certain détente.
700 Water St.
Denver, CO 80211
Region: Northwest Denver
Last year, PETA was served up a nice big chunk of moral high ground by Fish and Fisheries magazine, which studied more than 500 research papers on fish intelligence and came to the conclusion that fish -- previously thought to be the retards of the deep -- are actually rather smart. According to the magazine, fish are "steeped in social intelligence, pursuing Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliationexhibiting stable cultural traditions and cooperating to inspect predators and catch food."
And while I read something like that and think that we, as mammals, ought to be out in the oceans right now with spear guns, hunting down any fish that show even the slightest tendency toward "pursuing Machiavellian strategies" of anything, lest we are someday faced by an army of really pissed-off flounder looking for a little payback, the PETA people see this as evidence that fish are intelligent, caring, feeling critters that ought to be protected from us thumb-having jerks on dry land who want nothing more than to catch 'em, skin 'em and dress 'em for dinner with a little salt and lemon.
"Cognitively, fish compare favorably with dogs and cats," says Bruce Friedrich, director of farmed-animal campaigns at PETA. "And, you know, even recreational fishing involves putting a hook through a fish's mouth and dragging him behind a boat. That would be felony-level cruelty to animals if you did it with a dog."
No, that would be hilarious -- depending on the breed of the dog. Golden retriever? Not so funny. But a Pomeranian? Laugh riot.
Still, Friedrich and I do agree on one thing: Putting a fish restaurant in an aquarium is just plain stupid. "Like serving poodle burgers at a dog show," he says.
And while neither stupidity nor PETA's year-old "Fish Empathy" campaign (which focuses mostly on education, with the website www.fishinghurts.com; billboards featuring a dog with a hook through its mouth; leaflets and fliers detailing the dangers of eating fish flesh contaminated by mercury, PCBs, DDT and Dioxin; and generally getting the word out about fish-smarts research since, for a change, "the science is absolutely on our side," Friedrich says) have been enough to sink the Aquarium restaurant at Denver's Downtown Aquarium, there are times when I back the animal-loving, vegetable-eating, monkey-freeing fish freaks 100 percent.
For example, when the Fish Empathy folks went after the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, this year for having a cafeteria that served fish. Nothing really came of the fight. (PETA activist Karin Robertson, who runs the fishinghurts website, sent complaint letters that were roundly ignored by aquarium management.) Other aquarium/restaurant operations have received letters of protest since then, but the Landry's outposts aren't among them. "Most aquariums don't serve fish in their restaurants, anyway," Friedrichs notes.
Why not? Because it's stupid. Because unless that restaurant lets me sit next to the tank and point to the fish I want to eat for dinner, it's pointless. And a little fucking creepy, to be honest. I may not have the sort of moral qualms that Friedrich, his Fish Empathists and the rest of the PETA faithful do with eating fish, but we're on the same page with the aquarium/restaurant thing. It's simply a bad idea, and the fact that so many people leap at the chance to dive into popcorn shrimp and sea bass fillets and fried catfish dinners while oohing and aahing over how pretty all the other fish are just makes me dislike my fellow man that much more.
Besides, if all that research about fish understanding the basic ideas of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation is accurate, what's to say that fish don't understand revenge? Personally, I think they do. I think they understand revenge perfectly. And I think those little bastards at the Aquarium are up to something.
Just one more reason for me never to return.
Dead like me: Last week I was chasing down rumors about a possible move to the neighborhood just northwest of the Aquarium by Radek Cerny, one of my on-again/off-again (and currently on-again) favorite chefs. He's the man who owns and runs the brilliantly ego-driven L'Atelierin Boulder, a place that sits right across Pearl Street from Frasca -- one of the best restaurants anywhere -- yet still manages to turn tables every night (even though his situation is the equivalent of being the guy who owns the little bistro across the street from the French Laundry).
I'd heard that Cerny -- who's been looking for a second location for L'Atelier for the last year or so -- had finally settled on a space at the edge of the Highland neighborhood in the old Olinger Mortuary at 1575 Boulder Street, where Lola will move a few months from now. "Nah," he said when I got him on the phone. "That's not true. Olinger's? I was looking, but it was too much money."
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