Happy New Year, 2016

So we had a very fun, busy, and memorable New Year, but before I can get into all that I just want to say thank you again to my cousin Kristy and her daughter Madeline for having Ava, Elise, and Enzo over for a sleepover at their house on New Year’s Eve. I know it’s not easy to watch all three of our kids, especially when you don’t do it on a regular basis, but they did it with a smile and we appreciate it very much. At least they have the rest of the weekend to recuperate.

We had an early in-time at El Gaucho so we dropped the kids off at Kristy’s at noon, ate a quick lunch at Taco Time up the street, then hurried downtown to get started with work at 1:00. We got there in time, and I had a chance to say hello to many of my old friends who still work there. Jessica and I were bartending downstairs in the Pampas Room, which is a room that we both have plenty of history in. I’ve been working long nights in that room going all the way back to when it was a weekend Jazz club in the late 90’s. Jessica has worked plenty of long nights down there as well, but of course the best night we’ve ever had down there was the night of our wedding reception, nearly 6 years ago.

We were doing a double showing of our ‘Burlesque Dinner Theater’, which meant there was a ton of setup and prep work to get done before the first show. I’ve worked this show about 10 times in the past so I knew what to expect. It’s not really my cup of tea, meaning it’s not something that I would pay to attend, but I’m more than happy to work it. To me it’s sort of like an awkward combination of performance and sexuality, but plenty of people seem to really enjoy it. Unlike normal dinner service, which tends to flow more organically, these events have to follow a very strict time schedule. There’s only so much time when the guests first arrive to get them a drink, serve their first course, then get them cleared and set for dinner. In between each course various performers come out to do their act while we work behind the scenes to orchestrate their meal. As usual everything went off without a hitch, but that doesn’t mean you’re not busy. Quite the contrary actually. I was in the main service well at the bar, which means I’m head down slinging cocktails all night long. The night was sponsored by Buffalo Trace bourbon, so we had a special cocktail menu featuring a variety of their products.

We also tried something new this year, which was to give the night a prohibition era speakeasy feel. The staff was dressed in old-timey hats and suspenders, and we served drinks in kettle cups designed to ‘hide’ the alcohol in case the Coppers show up. The host would do this speech at the beginning of each show where he explained to the audience that we were ‘breaking the law’ as part of an underground speakeasy. “If the Coppers show up and ask if there’s any alcohol here we need to tell them…” and then the whole staff would yell out in conjunction “It’s a social gathering!”

We were so busy the whole time that the night just flew by. Certainly the most memorable performance of each show was the yodeling dominatrix. First of all she was the tallest woman I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw her doing sound check before the show, and even in flat shoes she had to be 6’4” or 6’5”. It was crazy. But for the show she comes out in this full leather dominatrix outfit with a whip (of course) wearing the tallest platform stiletto heeled shoes I’ve ever seen. So she’s literally about 7 feet tall walking through the crowd up onto the stage. It felt like the Greek God of Bondage just arrived, and the crazy part (as if we haven’t gotten to that yet) is that she’s here to yodel her way through an AC/DC song! Yeah that’s right; her and her accordion player (who is also quite the character) performed a cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, but when the chorus comes along, instead of singing “I’m on a highway to hell” she would sing “I’m on a highway to yodel”, but she would actually yodel the word ‘yodel’ full on Sound Of Music style. I’ve definitely never seen anything like it, and probably never will again. The crowd loved it, and I even saw some old guy palming her a $100 bill after the show because he enjoyed her performance so much. I’m sure she’s had plenty of old guys slipping her C-notes in the past, but I’m glad I got to see it.

At a certain point near the end of the 2nd show the performers had gathered near the bar as they prepared to go up on stage to take a final bow together. I had been busy making hundreds of drinks the whole time and didn’t even notice them there. Sort of like a whale coming up for air, I finally look up from the well, and what do I see right there across from my bar?? Well, there’s a giant leather-clad dominatrix holding a whip, a mostly naked man wearing bits and pieces of a bird costume, an almost completely naked woman (except for a few strategically placed quarter-sized pasties covered in sparkles), and another woman who eats fire for a living. It was one of those surreal moments where I’ve sort of lost context for my surroundings and all I can think to myself is “What the hell is going on here!!??” The funny part is that the only one who was out of place in this equation was me!! What a funny moment. I mean can you imagine all the jokes that can come from a setup like “A giant yodeling dominatrix and a naked birdman walk into a bar…”

There was another funny moment for me when I was chatting with a couple at the bar who were long time El Gaucho regulars. I recognized them both immediately, but I could tell that they didn’t remember me. To their credit, I was wearing a hat and I have facial hair now, plus I never really knew them very well before, so it makes sense that they didn’t recognize me. Anyway as the night went on the guy started getting a little tipsy, and he was sitting right next to my service well, so he was chatting me up between stage performances. I could tell he was trying to impress me by telling me stories of all the nights he’s had at El Gaucho in private rooms and such. At one point he was talking about this amazing wine dinner he attended about 3 years ago. They were featuring the wines of Delille Cellars in Woodinville, and there was a special menu that paired each course with a particular wine. The head Sommelier from Delille was even there to describe each wine. What he didn’t realize was that I’m the one who served that party! We had just moved back to Seattle from San Diego at that time, and I was filling in because they were in a bind. It was funny because here he is trying to impress me talking about that evening, but I already knew all about it because I was there. I could have spoken up and told him that I was his server that evening, but I didn’t want to burst his bubble. I just went along with it, smirking a bit none the less.

Before I knew it everyone was counting down to midnight. I gave Jessica a big kiss, then got right back to work. The crowd dispersed shortly thereafter and we were able to get things cleaned up in record time. As mentioned in a previous post, this was the first time Jessica and I have bartended together, but as expected it went so well. She took care of the dinner customers at the bar, plus helped me out making drinks in the well. She is just the absolute consummate professional when it comes to dining and service. You can only hope to have someone as good as Jessica working with you, but you certainly won’t find anyone better. With all of her restaurant experience, as well as her interior design experience, combined with all of my restaurant and website experience, it would almost be crazy for us not to open a restaurant together someday. I guess that’s another topic for another time though.

We ended up getting out at 1:20am, meaning we worked 12:20 minutes without ever sitting down or taking a break. Working downstairs means there’s a lot of running upstairs to grab something, so according to Jessica’s Fitbit she did approximately 65 flights of stairs that night, including over 24,000 steps. A busy night indeed! The really good news came when we found out that our little crew downstairs was responsible for 40% of the total restaurant’s sales! That’s unheard of. You have to realize that we’re working with half the crew compared to upstairs. We have half as many tables, and our kitchen down there isn’t even half as big as the one upstairs. Plus they had a really good night upstairs. I heard that they sold $20k more upstairs this year compared to last year, so for us to make up such a significant part of the total restaurant sales was a really big deal. Obviously the reason I’m there is to spend time with my wife and see all my old buddies, but making some nice cash certainly doesn’t hurt.

For me, El Gaucho Seattle is and always will be a very special place. It’s like when you hear people talking about their old college glory days; that’s what EGS is to me. So many of my formative years were spent there. Even before I started working there I was part of the restaurant’s history, vicariously through my Dad. He was the regular at the original El Gaucho down on 7th & Olive, so I grew up hearing stories of the mink-lined booths and the early morning Hunter’s breakfast. My Dad, the bookie, regularly used their office to take calls from his customers, so it was almost a foregone conclusion that I would someday also become a part of that place. I just love that now Jessica is also a part of their history. The Pellegrini name and El Gaucho have been tied together for a long time, and I hope it always stays that way.

By the time we got home and got to bed it was nearly 3:00am and we were both completely exhausted. My feet and back were killing me, and Jessica’s “whole body was sore”. We woke up a little after 9:00, got dressed, and headed down to Kristy’s to pick up the kids. As soon as they opened the door I could tell they had a rough night with Enzo. Kristy, Madi, and Enzo all looked exhausted. She said they all went to bed easily and that it was almost too good to be true, but that Enzo woke up in the middle of the night screaming and they had a hell of a time getting him back to sleep. He’s getting another tooth right now, so I’m sure that had something to do with it.

Kristy said other than that everything was great. The girls had a ton of fun and kept talking about it throughout the day. Everyone, including Mom and Dad, was exhausted so we all had a very lazy day at home to start the new year. We were excited to watch Iowa in the Rose Bowl but that quickly turned into a major disappointment. Jessica gave in when they were down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. I watched a bit longer but turned it off at 35-0.

We had a concerning moment earlier this week when I went out to the dog kennel and found an arrow sticking into the side of our fence. It had been shot from behind our house and into our yard. Obviously it was shot with force because it had penetrated our wood fence. Initially I’m looking at it kind of confused going “What is this – Sherwood Forest!? Isn’t there supposed to be a scroll or a wanted poster pinned to the fence by this arrow?” There are a couple boys that live in the house behind us and we normally get balls and frisbees in our yard, which is never a problem, but a dangerous arrow is something completely different. I was initially pretty upset about it, but I’ve since cooled down. I want to speak to their parents about it, but of course they’re out of town right now. I got their Dad’s phone number from another neighbor and left him a voicemail yesterday. Hopefully he calls back soon so we can talk. I’m not going to freak out on him, and I’m not going to call the police, which several people have recommended, but I need to be assured that this won’t be happening again. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that it was a one-time accident; Lord knows I did more than my fair share of stupid things when I was a kid, but whenever safety is concerned you can’t take things too lightly. If it happens again I’ll be forced to take more serious measures, but for now a simple conversation will suffice.

Not much else going on this weekend, but we’re flying out to Iowa early Thursday morning. They just got 8 inches of snow, so it looks like we’ll be getting the full midwest winter experience. It’s going to be a very busy trip, but we’re really looking forward to it. Once we get back there will be some new changes for us: Jessica is going to transfer from El Gaucho Seattle to El Gaucho Bellevue. We were never planning on her going back to Seattle after maternity leave because the Bellevue store is so much closer to my office in Redmond. They convinced her to come back to Seattle for the Holiday Season, but now that that’s over she has decided that making the double commute from our house to my office, then from my office to downtown Seattle just doesn’t make sense. It forces me to leave work at 4:00, which has become an issue, and it’s too stressful for everyone involved. Working at the Bellevue store means I don’t have to leave work quite as early, and Jessica doesn’t have to stress out about getting to Downtown Seattle in time. It’s a little sad because to some degree it feels like the end of an era, but we’re still part of the Gaucho family, so it’s all good!

That’s about all for now. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of stories and pics to share once we return from Iowa. Until then… Happy New Year!

Ready to sling some drinks!

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