Second Helpings


I sometimes wonder how long pleasant memories are good for. What's the shelf life on one really good night? On one brief afternoon, three strong margaritas and a smile across a crowded table?

In my sweeter moments, I want to think that memories last forever -- that they never sour, fade or grow stale. But rationally, I know that they are more like Polaroids. They begin to wash out the moment they're captured in a process that's both irreversible and variable, speeded up or slowed down by environmental factors, by the care with which they are handled.

How long should pleasant memories of a restaurant flavor your current experiences there? I don't have a hard and fast answer to that question, but I do know that my pleasant memories of Juanita's in Boulder have passed their expiration date. There was a time when I counted Juanita's among my favorite restaurants in Colorado -- not necessarily for the food, which was rarely any better than decent, but for the atmosphere, the environment and the fact that, because of two or three long and highly memorable nights there, Juanita's was the place that said Colorado to me when I was far away. Whenever I visited Colorado, Juanita's was my first stop. When I moved here, it was one of the first places I ate.

But if I were to be honest with myself (something I've never been very good at), I'd have to say that Juanita's has been on a downward slide for a long time. And each time I go there, rather than refreshing my love, it rubs a bit more of the charmed luster off what few good memories I have left. Distracted service; terrible, stale, store-bought chips used in lieu of what were once the best chips around; burnt flautas; rice and beans that taste like a simulacrum of rice and beans made by someone trying to re-create them from someone else's poorly articulated description of what they used to taste like back when they were good. The place is now filled with tourists. And while it was probably always filled with tourists, I've only just begun to notice them -- or, rather, have finally begun to notice the striking lack of locals warming the stools at the bar, in the high-backed, wood-slat booths that today seem so much less comfortable than they did five years ago.

I don't know which of us has changed more in that time: Juanita's or me. But then, I don't know if that really matters. It's enough to say that the restaurant today is not the one I remember, and that I think I'll stop going there, if only in an attempt to preserve what little fondness I still have for a place that was once one of my favorites in Colorado.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan