Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Streets of Bakersfield, Part 2

As a mentioned earlier, the one of the reasons my friend and I went to Bakersfield was to eat food. Particularly, Basque food. There is a large community of French and Spanish Basques in the area, with a smattering of quality restaurants and bars in "International Square" (as it's called) . The most notable of these is the Noriega Hotel, but we didn't eat there because the one meal of the night was served at the same time Buck was going on stage. So the Noriega will have to be another day.

After leaving the Crystal Palace, my friend and I went to "International Square" in search of any open tapas bars. What we found were... tumbleweeds. Blocks and blocks of closed up buildings and empty streets, and it was only 9:30 at night! Then I noticed a place that was open, but there were a couple sketchy guys hanging out front so we passed it up.

We doubled back, and I saw some inviting neon lights. It turns out it was the Pyrenees Cafe, a huge French Basque place still serving drinks at its long bar. The bartender (Joel) , chef (Gilbert) and owner (Robin) were all sitting around shooting the shit, as a large party had just left. There were two other guys in the bar, and us. That's pretty much how it stayed for the next two hours while my friend and I got drunk with the locals.

We'd heard of a particular Basque mixed drink, which my friend said was called "Pisco" and I kept calling "Picasso" because I just couldn't remember. Turns out it is called "Picon Punch." It's a whole lot of Torani Amer - which is a sort of orange bitters - grenadine, soda water, and brandy. I thought it was nasty. I opted for a couple Moscow Mules instead, because I saw they had copper cups. When I called it a girly drink, the bartender made sure he'd mixed it REAL strong for me. Then there were some shots of something. I was a goner.

We hung out and drank with the gang, and Joel's wife showed up later. They told us about the various Basque festivals which happen over the course of the year, including one coming up called the "Sheepherder Carnival," I think. Lots of homemade food and drinking in the street. In fact, this particular establishment was so old that they were allowed to put your drink into a "to go" cup if you needed to take it home with you.

We all got kicked out around 11:30, with friendly drunken hugs and kisses all around from our new best friends. On the drive home, my friend told me that when I had gotten up to go to the bathroom, Joel had asked him if we were swingers. My friend said, "No, we're not even a couple or anything" and Joel responded, "Well, it never hurts to ask!" I suddenly understood why Joel had given me his card at the end of the night and said, "In case you come back..."

Whoa! Oh, Bakersfield. Now if local resident John Doe had been asking, I might have been singing a different song...