Cafe Society

Girl Trouble

Swimclub 32 reminds me of this girl, Meghan, who was everything a (much) younger me could hope for in a girlfriend. She was gorgeous in an uncomplicated way, a bit ethnic, well-traveled, pretty in the face, with that face attached to a killer body and that body held up by a set of legs that...well, let's just say they were very nice legs and leave it at that. She was the only girl I've ever known (in the biblical sense) who looked good in a beret -- not quite like a Bond Girl, but like the girl 007 leaves the Bond Girl for at the end of the picture, cruising off for some island somewhere in his submarine car -- and she looked best when the beret was all she was wearing. Meghan spoke a couple of languages and knew a whole bunch of really interesting stuff that she talked about incessantly with her very interesting friends. She was also so totally out of my fucking league -- not to put too fine a point on it -- that we weren't even playing in the same ballpark.

But Meghan had a weakness for cooks the way some girls have a soft spot for grungy rock stars or Hollywood pretty boys, so I was in like Flynn -- not the first time my whites got me laid, and not the last.

As pretty as Meghan was, though, as smart and literate and everything else, she was also completely nuts. Not run-of-the-mill crazy, but flat-out bunny-boiling bonkers, butterfly-nets-and-lithium weird, a frequent flyer on the Prozac express. When things were good -- when all her neurochemical tumblers were in line -- things were great, and we got along like peanut butter and jelly or cheap beer and doughnuts. But when they were bad? Well, she once tried to stab me with a pair of sewing scissors for bringing her the wrong color underwear, and it was only due to my cat-like reflexes and the fact that she was probably aiming for a hallucination standing two feet to my left that I am still here today, able to compare her to a restaurant that fills me with the same sort of trepidation I used to feel every time I knocked on her door.

Swimclub 32 is Meghan through and through. It's gorgeous in a simple, understated, black-on-black, metropolitan-minimalist sort of way. The menu is worldly, speaks in a couple of culinary languages -- a jumbled tapas/pan-Asian/world-food patois dripping with buzzword ingredients -- and offers interesting things on every plate that are meant to be eaten by the kind of interesting people who appreciate small, bright flashes of smarts and beauty over any sort of substance.

And while that's all good, the restaurant also suffers from Meghan's mood swings, her wild vacillations between sexy brilliance and utter poison. There were nights when I'd have to trail Meghan through half a dozen bars and clubs where she'd come and gone before I eventually located her -- standing by the bathrooms waiting for the weed guy, or hunched at the bar pounding shots of whatever the house was buying. She was tough to find when she didn't want to be found, and Swimclub -- being hipper than all get-out itself -- is the same way. The restaurant is right in the heart of Highland on 32nd Avenue, but I still spent twenty minutes trying to find it the first time. Apparently owners Grant Gingerich and Christopher Golub (late of the tasting rooms at Veuve Clicquot) don't see a need for such niceties as a sign or a visible address. Swimclub assumes that if you're cool enough to eat there, you'll find it instinctively.

But, baby, I ain't been that cool ever, so I finally resorted to stomping around grumpily in the rain, stalking black-clad hipsterati all over the neighborhood until I found the right door. It was Meghan all over again.

Once I got inside, life quickly improved. Slumping damply at the bar drinking gold-label Dos Equis, I was comforted by the black lacquer and brick, the white china and guttering candles, the cool, stemless Riedel wineglasses like little fishbowls, and the tidal crowds of beautiful people washing up against the bar, then retreating to the tables. Swimclub was more comfortable than I'd thought it would be, and much more welcoming. I was coddled by staffers who share service on the bar and at the dozen narrow tables along the wall where seating is essentially tatami-style, but with low, blocky couches giving a measure of comfort that floor mats don't, and tables slung at just the right height so a short guy doesn't need to hunch. And even if one of my waitresses couldn't pronounce "pomegranate" (offering me something in a "pomigranita" sauce, I think; I was trying so hard not to laugh, I couldn't tell), that was okay, because the jeans-and-T-shirt staff seemed so honestly excited about the menu and what the kitchen was doing that I got caught up in it, too. Enthusiasm counts for a lot in a place like this. And it was infectious.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan

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