By New Times
By Derek Askey
By Mark Deming
By Serene Dominic
By Jason Keil
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
It's Friday and it's raining — as if we live in the grungy Emerald City of Seattle. Naturally, I throw on my flannel, itching for a drink when I receive a text from my buddy Guano (really, he goes by Guano). It reads, "I'm done with work pay day wanna grab a buzz with me?"
I text him back, "Baja Red's." Guano's been talking about this place that's a stone throw from his house — he's been begging me to go. Baja Red's Cantina is on McDowell Road west of 52nd Street, down the way from an old haunt of mine, the newly and sadly defunct Rework Lounge.
I get in the car, fight rush hour traffic, and find the place pretty packed at 5 p.m., on a day when the eagle shits. Baja Red's is a hell of a lot bigger than what I'd envisioned. When you enter, you see a long bar and a plethora of high-top tables to get your binge on (but too tall to fuck on).
5122 E. McDowell Road
Phoenix, AZ 85008
Region: East Phoenix
I'm psyched to see a classic shuffleboard table and a place in the back to throw electronic darts, next to two nice pool tables. I'm saddened, however, to see Golden Tee. But wait — they've got an ancient tabletop Ms. Pac Man; just hearing that munching brings me back to those pleasurable days of wetting my pants and not getting yelled at for it. I feel good in the place, not quite in the Baja of Mexico but if I have a drink for every neon beer sign in the place, I may get there.
The cantina is a cross between Jimmy Buffett and Willie Nelson. The ceiling and the bar are all wood. The ceiling has big railroad-tie beams covered in surfboards and creepy parrots and festive beer banners, while the bar has a rustic, rough-hewn, pine-pole footrest. I can't decide whether to get a white Russian ($6) or a Corona? I go for something under my radar and opt for a Captain Morgan. Hell, if you can't be a sailor, might as well be a scoundrel.
I order my drink from a nice gal with a napkin taped to her breast that says, "Hi, my name is Sue!!" I thank Sue and find Guano with his girlfriend, the same gal from my Dilly Dally visit ("Dive In," June 7, 2007), whose favorite color is "sparkle" (she's still as sparkly fun as ever — some guys get all the luck). She orders a Bloody Mary that's adorned with small, lousy slices of lime and lemon. WTF. If this is a "cantina," then where's the shrimp or pickle? How about a lousy stalk of celery? I mean, this place even has a kitchen, so I expected a little more creativity.
Well, after taking a look at the menu, I realize "creativity" is relative, I'm an asshole, and . . . Hell, I love it! This is a dive; it shouldn't have extravagant trimmings. It does have large fries for $2, and that's about all I need to know . . . but the kitchen closes at 6 p.m.! Fuck you! If I want shitty fries, I want them at 11 p.m. to soak up (and add to) my roiling stomach acid so I can drink up! I mean, really, how hard is it to work a fucking fryer?
I figure the next best thing is a Jell-O shot. I love that this place has Jell-O shots — nothing says Middle America like gelatin, and nothing says "I'm a drunk" like adding vodka to it. Jell-O shots have to be a creation of the '70s and, once again, I'm saddened I was born just a tad too late but thankful I'm still alive.
Sparkle and Guano get the tropical punch Jell-O, and I get the electric blue something-or-other, and together we tongue it down. There is an art to the wiggling shot, and I'm bummed they're out of whipped cream. The first thing you do is run your tongue to the bottom of the shot glass and rim it around to loosen it up, and then fire it back and try to gorge it down (reminds me of that one time in the van down by the reservoir . . . but that's another story). Make sure to chew it a little, or it might get lodged in your throat, as it did with Sparkle, who tells us she has a small esophagus — like I said, some guys get all the luck.
I notice a super-cute gal at the bar smile at me as I have the shot shoved in my face. I imagine her in a bathtub filled with Jell-O. (Hey, let a pig have his fantasy!)
Alas, I have to leave this gem and my good friends Bat Turd and Spark. As I'm settling up to skedaddle, I see a framed autographed photo of Bob Barker over the cash register, and I laugh out loud. I'm sad I have to leave — the drinks have been strong and the night-shift barkeep Brittany is slinging some mean drinks with a ruthless attitude; I'd come back just to have her harass my ass.