On the Pleasures of Dipping Grilled Cheese

Oh, Chelsea’s. For a moment, let’s leave aside the notion that the City Government of Baton Rouge was presumably founded as a vehicle to operate in the best interests of the community. After that, let’s also leave aside the notion that Chelsea’s Cafe employs fifty-five people and serves as a gathering-place for several different countercultural, minority, and otherwise disenfranchised communities, as well as the fact that the Cafe’s location in the Garden District has forced said countercultural groups to interact with–let’s call it the square community–and vice versa, fostering at least a semblance of actual/real diversity heretofore unseen in Baton Rouge outside of the gates of Tiger Stadium on Saturday. Finally, let’s forgo thinking about the future of Chelsea’s owner David Remmetter, and the twenty years that Chelsea’s has been in his family. Let’s leave all of that aside and play with language.

After all, the argument between the City of Baton Rouge and Chelsea’s Cafe is, when stripped of all of the above, an argument about the definition of two words — “bar” and “restaurant.” If I understand the charges correctly, Chelsea’s is being accused of operating as a bar even though it’s been zoned as a restaurant. I’m sure that there are brilliant, selfless, and not-at-all-driven-by-business-concerns reasons that a bar cannot also be a restaurant and vice versa (quick, someone alert Chili’s!), but no one has looked into that question as of yet. What constitutes a bar? What constitutes a restaurant? And why must a building be forced to choose between the two?

Not that this is without precedent in other types of establishments. We all remember when the Pete Maravich Assembly Center was temporarily closed when the City found out that the University was using the basketball arena for graduation ceremonies. An otherwise pleasant evening at a reception for a hair salon where I drank wine from an open bar and ate some sort of braised meat was ruined when the ATC burst through the doors and windows, the heat from their weapons first threatening and then violently igniting the pressurized cans of beauty products and sending great tequila-scented balls of flaming hairspray in every direction. Finally, I do believe I’ve watched football while eating at the Chimes, though I spent most of the meal looking over my shoulder in, worried about the fact that the Highland Rd. restaurant is clearly not zoned as a Public Football Viewing Area.

Yes! But–those establishments aren’t involved in the seedy, many-legged underbelly of Baton Rouge that is People Gathering And Drinking And/Or Eating. (Well, except the Chimes, of course, though to be fair, my late-night meals there are rarely interrupted by the roaring of the crowd in the next room and, despite the presence of the Bible-thick beer menu, as well as the array of beer mirrors lining the walls, I’m never really aware of the fact that the Chimes serves plenty of alcohol. There was that odd time when my meal ran long and I ended up eating dinner after ten o’clock, which was scandal enough, but it also put me in the precarious position of having to eat in a restaurant that was, as of that moment, officially a bar. The waitress took my oysters away and replaced them with an Abita Amber. I do not recall complaining.) It is a well-known fact that nineteen year-old children and other military-aged folk are often present in public spaces up to and past ten pm, and who’s to say that, as they try to eat their grilled cheese sandwiches sometime approaching the witching hour, they won’t be confused by the wily grins on the faces of the people at the adjoining table? What is that scent in the air that’s making all the speech turn slurry? Further, these people, who are typically already unable to take care of themselves (hence the eating dinner so late) are at a higher risk of possibly consuming a drink of their own. (Side note: is underage drinking problematic? Yes. So is the Iraq War. Also, greed. Also, targeting and forcing the closure successful businesses whose clientele is mostly people under thirty who don’t pay their taxes on time or go to church. Ra Shop, you may wanna get a better cover; we can see right through that black velvet curtain.)

I propose the following solution: underground caves. Sure, there are issues–the preventatively high water table, for one–but if we dig caves, we can stick bars down there and keep all of the food up here. Think about it: all beer-drinking will have to take place in the dark, humid cellars of the city. Somewhere next to the plumbing, if possible. This may present problems on Game Day, because our caves aren’t going to be big enough to hold the 120,000 tailgaters who show up with both barbecue pits and ice chests (outsiders!). And, actually, the pits aren’t going to do anything but smoke out the caves, and we’ve already outlawed smoking, so that presents its own issues and contradictions and, potentially, compromises, so that’s out. Okay, so, underground caves aren’t the answer. It was a pretty good attempt, though, and you have to admit that it did a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff.

What about Livingston Parish? Nothing going on over there, right? Really? Oh. Oh my.

Surely there has to be some sort of an answer to this thing. Perhaps a re-writing of the zoning ordinance–you know, the one that keeps George’s open till eleven pm “or whatever”? The boundaries aren’t that far–just across the street–so it shouldn’t be too tough to do.

But then, what kind of people would want to rewrite a law?

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