Whose Chris?

from Saturday, February9th of the year2013.

I’m just returning home from a week in Indianapolis, a midwestern city I’d not been to before. The midwest fascinates me, because it really does feel like a place as culturally different from New York as, say, Australia, or the +44. There are different rules that govern standard greetings, the way one wears one’s hair in public, the appropriateness of different forms of dress, the relationship of the afternoon to the evening, et cetera. One thing I’m obsessed with is cities revitalizing their downtowns. I love this so much. Cincinnati is doing it, Detroit is kind of doing it, and Indianapolis is doing it in a major way. There is an exquisitely retro steakhouse (retro in the sense of it having been around for 100 years) and a funny wine bar and a hipster cocktail boîte and all that, and then there are the cancerous and ubiquitous chains. There is something grotesque to me about there being this wonderful steakhouse St Elmó, and then just up the street the linguistically repellant chain steakhouse “Ruth’s Chris,” whatever that means, opens up shop. I feel like the people should take to the streets with pitchforks to protest that shit. Similarly, we need to shut down the TGI Fridays in Union Square; let’s take a tactic from the anti-abortion protestors and make people need an escort to get a mudslide fifteen paces from the greenmarket. Ugh.

Anyway, one thing that I am always acutely aware of in the midwest is the use of space in restaurants. There is so. much. space. The distance between the tables is loosely the size of apartments I’ve lived in in New York. There is room for empty space, for decorative follies, for an ambitious plywood and taxidermy design budget. What they have not, it seems, in any way figured out is how to handle an entryway. Despite all the space, there seems to be a confluence of cultural and spatial problems that means that you have five hundred women with overdone hair and makeup and wildly underdressed tops and boots (a white hoodie and UGG boots on a Friday night out!?) and the men who love them all trying to disrobe in a tiny tiny amount of space. I’d love to see if somebody has ever videotaped their entryways to design the flow; I’ve never really experienced this kind of problem in New York, even in crowded, cramped spaces there seems to be a designed and impromptu choreographic itinerary that basically everybody follows.

All of this got me thinking about regionalism and food-pride and ways to highlight, rather than average together, all the fun specific things that make specific places great. I like the idea that only in Cincinnati can you get that bizarre chili that has to be ordered a certain way; I like saving certain eatings for the one time every 18 months I go to Chicago, or Montréal. I feel like it’s key to establish a tradition that’s distinct (and that indeed resists) these restaurant chains and drugstores insisting that there is no season without a “special” aisle with wildly inappropriate Easter colors blasting in my face when I’m still observing lent. It’s grotesque in the same way, to me, that there was a line of Diù-Xí men outside of the Ruth’s Chris (again, what is going on with that; are they lesbians? Is it possessive or…?)

6 Comments

  • Diù-Xí!!!!

  • …”the linguistically repellant chain steakhouse Ruth’s Chris,’…” My sentiments exactly!

    (and +1 re “Diù-Xí men”)

  • Actually, “Ruth” bought out the original “Chris Steakhouse” in New Orleans many years ago, franchised the operation and set up shop around the country. I saw Ruth’s picture once; she looked kind. Hence the whole operation and name are now “Ruth’s ‘Chris Steakhouse’”. I’m anti-chain too, but sheepishly admit that the steaks taste pretty good.

  • some of my fondest childhood creations (games, words, pieces of artwork) occurred in big midwest restaurant entry ways. bless those spaces.

  • Wikipedia has the explanation, as usual, for the origin of ‘Ruth’s Chris’. At least it’s not the even more linguistically confused ‘Ruth’s Chris’s', which it might well have been given that it was originally Chris’s Steak House. Thank god I’m vegetarian.

  • Hi Nico,

    I suppose this comment isn’t related with you’re post about midwest America; But if you do read this, I just want to say that, since seeing a brief interview you gave about ‘Gait’ on the bbc, and consequently listening to you’re work, I have become a HUGE admirer. I would like to say that I am a composer myself (I try to be, at any rate) & I hope to pursue this area of music after I’ve left university. I can’t say enough how exciting and genuinely inspiring it is to know there are such vibrant composers out there, that make such.. just amazing music, with such colours, and complex emotive material, with influences of music of Messiaen, to arrangements for my favourite band Grizzly Bear..
    So thanks, for just all your work,
    All the best for the future

    Jack

    NM responds: Thank you for your note!