Birth of the Club
Almost two years ago, I was hungry. So were some friends. We talked about all the restaurants in St. Louis that we had never been to. Then it came: an idea! We would meet for dinner and go to one of these restaurants. So, one Friday night in October of 2002, Leslee McCoy (my better half), Tim Schoemehl, Joe Hodes and I jumped into Joe's convertible Volkswagen Beetle and headed off to Bosna Gold on Gravois. I recall it was just starting to get too cold to have the top down, but Joe had it down anyway, and it didn't matter, because we were on an adventure.
Tim had heard that Bosna Gold had been recognized by the mayor at some luncheon or other, and I had heard from an expert source (a Bosnian student at Webster) that it was the best Bosnian restaurant in town. None of us had been there. Fortunately, none of us were vegetarians, as the theme of the meal was meat. It was good food nonetheless, and the staff was friendly. Something about the atmosphere seemed to indicate that we were too early, being that for a while we were the only folks in the place. Eventually, others began trickling in as the evening's entertainment a Bosnian one-man-band on some synthesizers got started and we finished our meal. And, thus, the Dinner Club was born.
Feeling pretty good about ourselves, we decided to have the club on a monthly basis. And, for the second installment of the club, we established rules. The rules are few, but important. Each person would vote on where to go for dinner, and we would then draw out of a hat. Votes must:
- be a restaurant that person had not been to
- be in the St. Louis City limits
Yes, the Dinner Club founders are city advocates. Some of our current members do have the misfortune of living in the county, but we hope by participating in the Club, they can find a cure for their illness.
The nerdier members of the club (me among them) have had arguments, à la Clinton, over the definition of the words "been to" in Rule #1. Most of these have been resolved peacefully.
Over the last year, we have also had a historian for the Club. Tom Weber carries a little reporter's notebook (which fits, since he is a reporter) and writes down the attendees, the votes and the winning pick. Someday, when we're all really important and famous, that book could be worth something.
Eat, Eat, Eat
Despite vacations or occasional conflicts by the hosts or hard-core members, we have been pretty good about meeting once a month at our house. We have had as few as four participants and as many as ten. The results have taken us to restaurants that are familiar to many, and to places that are a complete mystery to everyone. Veteran club members have been known to plan their votes for days, while newcomers have needed to flip through an RFT at our house to get an idea of where to go. Sometimes the votes are discussed before they are picked out of the official CORO Fellows hat, and sometimes every vote is secret. But, to me, the main excitement is that we never know where we are going until the name of the place is drawn. It could be cheap. It could be expensive. It could be great. It could suck.
A sampling of the places we have gone shows the diversity of cuisine and price ranges we have experienced. They have included: Wasabi, Charlie Gitto's on the Hill, the late Shenandoah Bar and Grill, Kitchen K (which we now call Kitchen OK, since that's how the experience was generally described), The Oh My Darlin' Café at Clementine's Bar, Modesto, Truc Lam, Smokin' Al's BBQ, Olympia and Space. On Space: one member continued to vote for that restaurant for a year until his vote got picked. So, while he really, really wanted to have dinner at Space, for 12 months he was stubborn enough not to go there for any other occasion until he won the Dinner Club pick (I think people began to feel sorry for him, since out of five votes that night, three were for Space and one said, "Because I can't pick Space, pick again.")
Are You Hungry Yet?
In upcoming issues of The Commonspace, I will provide a restaurant review of sorts. I will feature the winning pick of the most recent Dinner Club. It won't be as formal as reviews that you see in the periodicals, but it will give you some insight on a restaurant you may not be familiar with. St. Louis has no shortage of a wide variety of restaurants, and whether you visit a restaurant I describe or pick one of your own, I hope you explore and try something new.
I also encourage you to start your own dinner club. They are a great way to spend time with friends and also something to look forward to each month. And, while I might prefer that you concentrate on City restaurants, you can make up your own rules.
John Ginsburg is the director of the University Center and student activities at Webster University. His initiation number for his fraternity chapter was #64. (For some reason, it's a big thing with him.)