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Punch Drunk 

This Week: Jack's Ode to Corporate Restaurants.

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A poor excuse for spring mix lies in front of me, wilted, browning. Hard-boiled egg shavings and other assorted offerings from the salad bar cover my plate. Directly in the center sits a chickpea. One lonely, God-forsaken chickpea amidst a field of happy croutons and bacon bits who still have friends, still have lifelines, reasons to go on living.

I take another tired sip from my Summer Peach Sangria. The riesling and supple chunks of apple, lime and orange, tumbled with pineapple juice, serve only to enhance my buzz, thus enhancing the pain I feel.

I am that chickpea.

It’s Wednesday night at Ruby Tuesday.
We used to come here every week before bowling league.
Until the accident.

These are the thoughts that I imagine the beleaguered middle-aged gentleman sitting across the bar from me at Ruby Tuesday is having. His face tells the story. I’m saddened by his expression, his grief, his … salad. Or maybe I’m just bummed to be sitting at Ruby Tuesday.

I order another Superfruit Cooler.

The sweet taste and $4.99 price tag helps to produce a brief respite to the dejection I feel for the soul-crushing hopelessness that this broken shell of a man across the bar is most assuredly feeling.

I imagine it was a drunken outboard motor-boating accident or possibly a lawn-mower mishap. She should’ve never stuck her hand in there. Dammit … why wasn’t it me?

The bartender eyes me sullenly while I gape at the newly redesigned restaurant. Its sparse, modern lines are a far cry from what I remember. Where’s all the knick-knack and random kitschy paraphernalia — the reproduction “Maltese Falcon” posters and Sun Drop soda adverts — spread out across the walls? Maybe I’m getting this place confused with Applebee’s.

The bartender has grown to hate this place, I think to myself.

A fresh batch of pasta salad just went by from the kitchen. I vow to make a return trip to the salad bar.

While corporate restaurants get a bad rap and 680-location chain restaurants such as Ruby Tuesday get dragged through the mud, I find these places (Ruby’s and T.G.I. Friday’s in particular) to be havens for fun and people watching. Eclectic types, easy women (which isn’t to say “good-looking” women), and super-fruity, incredibly strong drinks are the norm. If no other bars are popping on a certain night and you’re in that frame of mind in which you absolutely must have some poppage in your life, you simply go to a corporate bar.

So, fine, Ruby Tuesday is cheesy and not hip like that indie bar down the street. OK, it doesn’t “locally source” its goddamn cheeseburgers. Hell, it caters to a clientele that doesn’t even know, or care, what locally sourced means.

Is there a wooden bar? Are there delicious drinks? Is the food solid and filling? Is it affordable for us poor folk? Is every employee a sunny beacon of fake smiles and snappy suspenders?

What’s not to like?

I retained her hand. I couldn’t let it go. I mean, literally, I was driving the car with one hand and holding her severed ulna and radius together with the other.
It sits in my freezer now. I’m reminded of her every time I reach for the Jose Cuervo frozen margarita mix.
I needed out of the house. I needed a happy place. And here I am. …

Excuse me while I buy this sad son of a bitch a Ruby Tuesday Lavender-Pear Martini.

Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback contributes to Mixology magazine in Germany, tweets @jackgoesforth and blogs at jackgoesforth.blogspot.com. Email: bartender@styleweekly.com.

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