A winding staircase is all that separates a jazz-loving, cocktail-ordering, suit-wearing clientele from a jersey-toting, domestic beer-drinking, up-all-night crowd. I think that’s what I like most about Monte Vista: that somehow one building hosts a good time for two different lifestyles that seem to oppose one another. But here they are, the upstairs and downstairs, almost as if they were two separate bars entirely. Though I do enjoy cocktails and occasionally wear a suit, I prefer upstairs with its glowing televisions and bottomless free chips and salsa. It feels nonjudgmental to me. On a winter afternoon, it’s a surprisingly lovely spot to drink whiskey, get a late lunch and read a book in relative privacy.
I’ve come here on “wing night” before, which is something else entirely: eating as many chicken wings as possible like it was some sort of competition. Dozens of 10-cent wings circled around our table and at the end, we all held up our BBQ sauce-stained napkins and marveled at the accidental kaleidoscope stains. But tonight I decide on bacon-wrapped jalapeños and guacamole.
Monte Vista’s guacamole always surprises me. Served in a giant bowl, I contemplate how many avocados it took to make it. I think of the cooks who prepared it, and I wonder if they’re texting their boyfriends or girlfriends, or maybe they’re watching sports like we are while they wait for food tickets to start coming in.
I don’t like sports. Or maybe, I just don’t understand them entirely. I understand the more, sort of, archaic sports, like running or wrestling. I understand wanting to flail out in any way that makes it easier to get away. And in those tiny sports moments, I’m “game.” And apparently my fellow patrons are also “game,” which is why they chose to come to Monte Vista Fire Station.
I’ve come here on “wing night” before, which is something else entirely: eating as many chicken wings as possible like it was some sort of competition. Dozens of 10-cent wings circled around our table and at the end, we all held up our BBQ sauce-stained napkins and marveled at the accidental kaleidoscope stains.
Sports remind me of fathers. Likely because my own father watched Vikings games on Mondays and sometimes Sunday too. My dad was anything but an athlete, but something about those men and that running and that competitiveness, that resting moment—it gave him something he felt perhaps his life was missing. Or maybe it was just a way to sit down and escape. Escape from bills. And Vietnam. And the incredible weight the world pushes so forcefully on all of us. Still, it’s possible he liked football, and it doesn’t go much further. But I can’t believe anyone could care so deeply about something that serves no apparent purpose.
People say sports bring communities together. I don’t know. I guess. But I think our fathers watch sports because there are traces of immortality in knocking yourself into the ground and getting up to run 100 yards. That somehow in the tumble and violence of national sports leagues, there is an underdog story—that we can all somehow see ourselves in during football games. We are the unlikely champion running for our goddamn lives.
Everyone knows the best part of the upstairs section of Monte Vista is its outdoor patio and fireplace. Once, shortly after it opened up for the afternoon, I watched a cocktail waitress douse wood with vodka and light a match. She was in her early twenties and smiled more than her job appeared to require. You know how some people just seem young? Like they bear no scars, no tired yawns? She seemed unaffected by how unusually cruel and aloof the world can sometimes be.
As I finish my last jalapeño, I notice a group of young businessmen walk through the rickety wood and glass patio door. They are all wearing watches and carrying stout glasses in their right hands. This place feels lawless at times, and if you’ve been here on a Friday night, you understand. Still, somehow it manages to draw in a great handful of opposing groups of people. There is something mysterious about that, something welcoming and forgiving.
The waitress adds a log to the fire, and I wait for the rest of the night to unfold, as it always does, in its absurdity and rawness.