I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
This was first time where I experienced genuine panic. Following a doctor’s appointment which could only be described as anticlimactic, I arrived at the Party Shack, located in a quaint little building in a region of town in which “dilapidated” would be considered high praise, like calling New Orleans-post Katrina a little rundown. An old car sat parked on the roof, which I didn’t believe was actually part of the décor—I sincerely thought a drunk somehow drove his car up there and simply abandoned it. The Party Shack is not most pleasant looking pub in the world, with torn and tattered chairs over a rug which has seen more grease than the air filter in Arnold’s Diner from Happy Days. When I approached the weathered door, I was greeted by a pack of smokers looking like extras from Waterworld. One of them, the server, promised to see to me in a moment and make myself at home. I followed her instructions the best I could, all the time worried if my car would still have its wheels on when I returned.
This was not a pub, this was a pub’s fevered night terror. The only way this place could be sanitized is with ten gallons of turpentine and a blowtorch. Per tradition, I went about counting alcohol adverts and TV screens. I tried to comprehend the reasoning of having three screens literally inches from one another. The Party Shack does this on two different walls in a pub half the size of any other I’ve been inside of. As for alcohol signs, I gave up counting past forty. The server re-entered after a minute and mentioned that wings were on special. I asked for the menu and was presented with a badly laminated art project from 1998. Various dishes were scattered in neon comic sans like a children’s scrapbook, a child obviously in love with Austin Powers I might add.
Yes, in a marketing move which I’m sure wouldn’t pass legal scrutiny, the Party Shack takes its influence from that now appropriately obsolete franchise. Various thumbnail images from the film series lie scattered between the menu offerings, mixed in with the odd movie quote. I’m fairly certain the Party Shack hasn’t received Myer’s blessing for his likeness. “Grant permission for my face and franchise to a pub located in the most crime filled region of the most crime saturated town in all of Canada? How can I lose?!” Austin Powers stopped being a source of tribute in 2002, and even then, only an insane man would attempt to capitalize on it. People don’t make a pub preference based on the number of movie images glued to its menu. They choose one because of proximity, the price of its alcohol, and maybe—maybe—on the quality of their cable on fight nights.
And then there was the smell, not unlike a bathroom. Not mine, mind you, but the bathroom of a public park miles away from any town. Close your eyes and remember the smell of the worst public washroom not condemned for plumbing infractions, the ones where a janitor shows up three times a season. The server promised homemade burgers, which would have been fantastic if they had bread. They must have been unprepared for me not ordering wings, because I found my burger wedged between two pieces of garlic toast, which might sound awesome, but turned quickly into a grotesquely messy experience. Thankfully, I also had the requisite thirty pounds of fries.
All of this reads like I’m pummeling a crippled homeless person with his own bottle of Listerine. Seriously, look where I am? It would be easy to just rip this ramshackled dive over literary coals. It would be something else to find praise. For one, the server was actually courteous. She claimed her burgers were made in house and I believed that. I was handed a tray with every type of condiment imaginable and after the meal was over, even with a giant mug of coke, the whole thing still cost less than ten bucks. Did I like Party Shack? Will I return? Obviously not to both, but that’s not the point. The point is that it wasn’t disappointing. There was no expectations of quality. The fact that I returned to a still intact car with a full stomach with no desire to drive to the hospital for a stomach pump could be considered praise. I’ve been to restaurants that can’t even claim that, successful ones to, where mindless mobs shuffle along a buffet stacked with yesterday’s food, sprayed with preservatives and MSG, offering the mere lingering memory of once flavor.
Comparing the Party Shack with Shooters, my desire to be in either can be rated on a balanced scale or zero. But where Shooters was a great looking façade kept together with glue and particle board, the Party Shack is an ugly outhouse made of oak, the first place to hide when the bombs drop. Until then, I doubt I would return to either. When you shuffle past that middling compliments, I was still left with an inconsistently cooked chicken burger wedged between two pieces of garlic toast saddled next to a mound of fries tall enough to cast a shadow on the table. After twenty minutes, I still had half a pound of potatoes which had fallen to room temperature, so crucify me for not finishing my plate.