How you perceive the place depends largely on who you are and what time it is. Here on the OSU campus in the early nineties, The Street Scene Restaurant is the nexus of many worlds.
This was before Papa Joe’s burned down, and south campus was still a ghetto, and there were not many places on the whole stretch of High Street where you could sit down at a table and have a server show up, and take your order.
If one of the Three Little Pigs owned the place, it would be the second one, because this place was made of wood – wood floor, wooden pillars and walls, exposed rafters disappearing up into the shadows. Even the bar was polished cherry, and you could sidle up to an oak bar stool, and by-and-large, during reasonable hours, you could get treated pretty well when you did that.
During the day it was an oasis of adulthood in a campus-wide, sneering, hipster world gone mad. A slice of pizza from Sal’s was outstanding, no doubt about it. Real New York pizza, and it tasted like it – but it also felt like it. Dingy, cramped, and no air-conditioning, it doesn’t get much more authentic than that.
Street Scene had a full menu and a blue plate lunch special – maybe the last real, independently-owned campus restaurant of its kind and caliber, before the Corporate-Owned Mothership landed on the ruins of south campus, and everything was suddenly twenty bucks.
Happy hour was when the cool crowd came in. We had thirteen drafts and the cheapest was a buck for Natural Light at 23 ounces. You could run into a wide assortment of folks between five and nine at the Street Scene – the guys from the sub shop at the Union across the street, Matt the guitar instructor from The String Shoppe having a vodka gimlet between lessons, the guys from local band Dogrocket sprucing up the place with hipness, several off-shift staff members tying one on for the hell of it.
Let me just get your usual, and you can sit right here next to Don, a jovial guy from the Main Library. He’s one of the only guys I know with an Internet connection, so he prints off conspiracy theories and delivers them to me in mysterious brown envelopes. That’ll get you a free beer, you know.
I just got on my shift so I’m in a pretty good mood, a gangly, pony-tail guy who really moves around back there. If you’re a smoker, I’ll empty your ash tray a lot, and I’ll more than likely ask you if you want a drink before you’re quite finished with the one you’ve got.
A lot of people think my name is Paul, because the waitresses aren’t allowed to simply stomp up to the wait station and shout out drink orders. They have to say, “Call!” And then wait for me to say it back – that’s how we avoid chaos around here.
Anyway, folks think they’re saying “Paul!” And since I answer them and get what they ask for next, they think that’s really my name. And to complicate things even further, that’s my middle name – it’s fine with me.
If you want something to eat, I’d go with the wings or the potato skins, both really tasty and having no regard for your health. Our whole menu is basic and good – lasagna, hamburgers, subs, and chili. You can get a salad if you want to, those are good, too.
Don’t cut up in the slightest, man, not that you would. But don’t go grabbing waitresses or asking for money from the patrons; the proprietor is an independent owner and he’s not very calm. He’ll bounce you off several walls on your way into the street, and the cops aren’t going to help you. Their money is no good here, old-fashioned style.
Yes, that’s Melanie and Julie from the Newport next door, drinking Long Islands and acting pretty girlish about a Pepsi commercial on the television. CG animation is pretty new, and they’ve got a couple of polar bears playing bouncy ball with a seal in some arctic CG oasis. What’s that got to do with Pepsi? I have no idea.
Ah, and there’s Matt – let me grab him a vodka gimlet real quick, he likes them shaken up with an extra lime, and he’s only got twenty minutes between guitar lessons sometimes. The clock’s ticking.
Then a bit of commotion outside, and turning to look out the wide front window, there’s the owner, middle-aged, bearded, veins popping out on his forehead as he runs off a couple of panhandlers and then gets into a screaming match with the pierced, tattooed goth crowd over at Insomnia.
It’s something the regulars are used to, so try not to get worked up about it.
Then the commercial ends and in the sliver of silence before the next one begins, a nasal voice floats around the corner, from the other side of the beer tap tower. It’s mounted against a wide, wooden pillar, and the voice seems ghostly and disembodied to you and Don and Matt and Melanie and Julie.
“In real life,” says the voice. “Those polar bears would be eating that seal.”
That’s Warren – don’t worry about him. He’s a little weird, but he doesn’t mean any harm and I try to look out for him. The hipsters at Bernie’s are kind of dicks to him, and all he wants to do is drink a little Natty Light and read his Isaac Asimov Science Fiction magazine, maybe have a couple of wings.
It’s surreal, standing back here in time, watching everybody smoke right there at the bar, their ash trays in front of them like cell phones will be, in fifteen years. I zone out for a second as Future Tom takes over my body, looks around the room for a minute, drinking in the past.
I got to run downstairs real quick – anyone need anything before I do?