Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mekong & the 14th Anniversary party

Without a doubt Mekong is widely considered the best Vietnamese restaurant in town. It is also widely considered to be the best place for beer! Last night was the beer event of the year.

I had arranged for L. to pick me up from Mekong, so I could drink and not have to worry about driving home. Of course that meant finding a way to get there. Everyone I thought that would go (and perhaps give me a ride) had canceled; that meant I was flying solo. That's okay, I would "cover" it like a reporter for a magazine would, going back to the days when I used to do that for Throttle and other zines for music. But it also meant Public Transportation. The thing about P.T. in a medium size town is that you are ALWAYS waiting, and often this is your view:

The bus is rarely on time and though a competent system, it is just never when nor where you need it to be.

Anyway, between two buses and mostly standing at the stops, it takes about an hour to get there . As I approached the restaurant just after 6, I could see the cars pulling in and the bodies arriving. I knew this was the beer drinking crowd. Sure there were a few people coming just for a proper dinner, but little did they know that they were about to be outnumbered. For the only room that wasn't dedicated to the party was the front. The rest was ours.

After handing in my ticket I was was funneled to the left where I received my pint glass and tee shirt. The buffet lay in wait just across the room. Mmmm, rocket shrimp, tofu curry, spring rolls, fried rice, dumplings. So much to choose from.

Speaking of choices, I had my hands full; camera bag, camera, umbrella, Me Kong t-shirt and an empty pint glass. I was beer thirsty and ready but had to unload and decide whether to hit the buffet first or fill my beautiful sky blue lettered glass with beverage. Food first, because you know the beer will never run dry if An is running the show. I dropped my umbrella off behind the bar while waiting in the food line, plated up, then head to the banquet room to make the first beer decision of the night; KWAK.

An was back there, talking, shaking hands and all smiles. Here's an aficionado clearly in his element. "Phil," he said, "You haven't put your shirt on yet!" He's referring to shirt that everyone was donning "Mekong is *heart* for beer lovers". "Getting to it!" was my reply, taking a big Kwaky sip.

As the sea of shirts continued to multiply, there was also more friendliness amongst the beer drinkers. That's the thing about avid appreciators of beer. They are all friendly with a bit of jaded humor to give them the edge you need. I first got chummy with a nice knowledgeable couple over a pint of An's homemade brew simply called "The Crazy", which looked like a mad scientist experiment with the beer being filtered through the hops.

Still had yet to see familiar faces, although I was starting to make new friends fast, talking beer and just having a good time. I needed a break from the crowd, so I stole off to the empty corner table near the stage to write some thoughts down, playing reporter role still. While writing an elderly couple came up to me and asked if they could use the table. I said sure, I'm just here writing, feel free to sit down. The husband seemed kind and apologetic for interrupting me, but the wife was on a mission. She was converting their two scotch on the rocks to their new pint glasses. As she dumped the liquor into them she spilled a bit on the tabletop and back end of a chair. Immediately and with quick action she wiped the chair off, right onto my leg. No apology from her and she was off, her husband left to thank me for the table use and once again say sorry. What a bitch was my first thought, but then any hostile emotions melted away with a swig of beer and a "ha ha beer events are funny" attitude.

Grabbing another plate of food, I next went back to the Kwak, finding a place to sit. Two younger alternative looking gals were camping out between two cooler taps and there was a chair open. I reached across the table and plopped down my plate, then worked my way around to sit. The dark haired girl's boobs were about to pop out and the blond was dubious of me from the start. Trying not to seem like creepy guy, I made small talk and we eventually had some nice smattering of conversation, although I feel they probably still felt I was a little weird. Here they are, and doesn't it look like An is dancing?

Back again, this time to the bar where some Chimay was on tap and would be the beer I would roll with most of the night. I took a temporary seat and lo and behold who shows up but the WW2 veteran who spoke of his experiences in the War at the last Mekong Beer Fest called World War Beer. He started talking me and another girl about flying 32 missions over Europe and how after entering the armed forces he had a choice to either fight in Europe or the Pacific. He chose Europe, because "the food was better, the cots were better, the whiskey was better and the women were better!" Cheers to you sir!

After he went back to his table, the girl told me how she loved hearing all those stories from older folks. We got to talking and shared what we were reading, me a Teddy Roosevelt biography, she a biography on Stalin. Then I started getting chummy with her friends and hung out there a while. One of the fellas was covering the event for RVA Magazine, I'd remembered him from the previous Mekong event, and we all toasted glasses several times. Suddenly the Flay Slayer shows up!

Just as quickly, the action was getting faster by this point, a guy from some beer magazine stood on a chair and yells for everyone who is wearing the Mekong shirt to come to the stage for a group photo. Yeah, you know it was bound to happen. The biography girl made a joke that she was going to grab her crotch like a baseball player for the photo and we all chuckled and egged her on. People gathered, laughter and whoops, and this other woman got candid and I took an impromptu snap:

Notice biography girl in the background and her baseball player pose. Hilarious! As people continued to get ready for the photo, all the photographers, amateur or otherwise, clicked and snapped. I yell, "Okay, everyone on the count of three, yell beer!" One, two, three:


Time for a bit of Terrapin while chatting with Lian, the first of the 5 brothers, and his wife.

He told me how before Mekong moved in to the building, the place was an electrical store or something. I told him they needed the whole strip mall, knock down some walls and line the place with beer. He laughed and said no, this is good, we're all like family; like everyone here at the party. It was kind of like a big fine beer drinking family! My glass was empty again, Lian led me to the banquet room, where he poured me a fine glass of delicious two year old Brasserie Dupont.

Next on deck was the band Fear no Beer, better known as Modern Groove Syndicate. Funky, jazzy and perfect for the crowd.

As the evening progressed I spent some time with Julia and David of River City Cellars fame. Great people and fun to hang with!

While in the midst of continually good inebriated conversation, I'd missed my phone call. L. was on her way and would be there in 20 minutes. Time for cake silliness, last photos and goodbyes.

Cake fun!

Posing silly.

An entirely sweaty me and An.

If there is something to said about that evening, it is that Mekong is a great place for good beer, good food and a good party. Happy Anniversary and I look forward to many more!

CHEERS and Good Times!