Czech, Please!

A story about the 50-cent tip

Everyone in Prague was beautiful in 1994. We were down for the weekend from our classes in Berlin, and we stayed on the outskirts of town in a hideous Communist tilt-up with a warm family who spoke no English but were constantly pressing more boiled eggs on us for our breakfast. We would ride the train, and people would chatter at us in Czech. "English? Deutsch?" we would ask. No. Just Czech. They would keep chattering, and at their stop, they would kiss us and alight. Ridiculously handsome men would smile at us, revealing mouths full of tooth shards.

But the most harrowing evening I ever spent was that same weekend, in the fairytale city below the lights of the castle on the hill. In the below-ground tourists' disco where we were drinking, there were some handsome Russian Mafia thugs hiding out because they'd just given some businessman a warning by blowing up his Mercedes. They were low-level enforcers and headcrackers, and they were terrifying. Naturally, Kristen was busy falling in love with their blond leader, who was urbane and soft-spoken in three languages. There was no way she wasn't going to their "after-party," so Isabelle and I had to go, too. For women, it's bad enough to leave a girlfriend at China Beach in San Clemente, even if she claims not to mind; it engenders all manner of debate, and usually the pissed-off group will be held hostage to the whim of the one. If you can't leave a friend at China Beach, you do not under any circumstances leave her alone with Russian Mafia in Eastern Europe. That left Isabelle and me in a Prague living room with five menacing men who didn't have the luxury of morals and a really bad language gap, while Kristen and her sensitive Dread Pirate Roberts type cooed at each other in English and German in another room. Kristen was really pretty, and I have never seen anyone in real life bat their eyelashes like she could. She was from Virginia.

Stepping into Unique Bar on old Newport Boulevard on Thurs., Feb. 27, that feeling returned. I am not in any way suggesting it's a Mafia hangout—and that's not even the paper's libel lawyer talking, it's me—but there's a hardness in the cool, shabby-chic bar that could lead one to imagine dark things. The Czech and Russian patrons would not be pressing boiled eggs on us. You should really go and try it!


Little Prague, Costa Mesa Dana and I sat at the bar next to a small smattering of local guys who make it their neighborhood place. But at the tables, near the Internet jukebox that promises more than 100,000 songs, sat a pretty and hard-driven brunette, with arms like straws, in weary conversation with two surly men. We would have eavesdropped, but we don't speak Eastern European.

We waited for the hearty blond bartendress to notice us—it wasn't crowded—and when about six minutes had passed, she asked me for my order. I asked for a Bud and an ashtray, and she brought them and walked away. After about four minutes more, we tired of the "When Would She Offer Dana a Drink" experiment, and I called her over. "My friend would like a drink, too," I said, and the blonde took her drink order without saying a word.

Once the Europeans started playing techno on the jukebox, we deemed ourselves over it and left our half-drunk Bud and bottled water. We also left a 50-cent tip.

The tip was a source of some controversy. Dana tends bar, and bartenders tip ridiculously well. I had watched her tip lavishly all night—five bucks for the valet who traveled 30 feet to get her car; $7 to the guy who brought us two coffees and soup (and who'd told us about Unique). Then she left two quarters. Would the blonde even realize the reason for the outrageously small tip, or would she think she had been right to give us shitty service because we had buttressed her prejudice against women customers?

"You're never getting served in there again," I told Dana, laughing.

"She won't even remember me!" Dana pooh-poohed me.

But then she called me Friday night. "You will never guess who just walked into my bar," she said.

The blonde wouldn't look at her at first, but true to form, Dana killed Camilla with kindness, introducing her to all the regulars and being sweet as ever. Camilla—whom Dana now describes as "really nice!"—and friend tipped $10 or $12 for four drinks. And everyone lived happily for the rest of the night.

* * *

Looking for love? Why not try the Yard House? Oh, because you hate it? So be it. Nevertheless, on Thursdays, there's a glut of the Costa Mesa 500, and the skirts get shorter as the night goes on. Personally, I like the soundtrack of Wings and Steve Miller, even if frat boys do, too. And it was a perfect place to ignore everyone and just talk to my girl about all the folks who'd done me wrong that week. She bought. And they have Shiner Bock—the national beer of Austin, Texas, on tap!

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