Waiter Confidential: President Bush at Dick's Hideaway
Today, the torch passes to a new generation. But some will never forget certain meals enjoyed during the Bush Administration.
On October 13, 2004, in an act some might consider tantamount to cannibalism (shame on you), President George Walker Bush dined on turkey-stuffed enchiladas at Dick's Hideaway in Phoenix. (Dick's is the cozy bar and private dining room tucked into an unmarked space right around the corner from its better-known sister restaurant, Richardson's.) He'd worked up the appetite debating Democratic nominee John Kerry at ASU's Grady Gammage Auditorium in Tempe.
More than four years later, the President's dinner host that evening, restaurateur Richardson Browne, reflects on his Santa Fe-style summit with the soon-to-be ex-leader of the free world.
"About thirty minutes before he showed up," Browne recounts, "I got a call at home from my manager saying, 'The President's coming in.' I just hung up, horrified. I was more than a few Maker's Marks into my evening. She kept calling back. I kept hanging up. Then it occured to me that, Christ, she's fucking serious. So I put on a clean shirt and came down."
When Browne arrived at the restaurant, it was anything but business as usual.
"After twenty years, I know my crowd. But there were guys in suits just sitting in the dark in the PDR (Dick's private dining room) who definitely didn't fit the picture, and a few more dressed like lumberjacks -- for God-only-knows what reason -- ordering my staff to remove all the steak knives from the property. It was like Men In Black meets Fargo."
With things heating up in his kitchen, Browne needed a little fresh air.
"So now I'm out pacing in front of the place, shaking like a leaf. I'm just standing there horrified, with my plastic Solo cup of Maker's on the rocks rattling like a maraca."
A minute or so later, according to Browne, the advanced guard of the Presidential motorcade arrived.
"Suddenly, at least thirty motorcycles come rumbling up the street. War wagons (armored SUVs) and police cruisers started emptying manpower into the street and cordoning-off every route to the restaurant imaginable. By the time I noticed the protesters, the satellite trucks, and the sharp shooters lining the rooftops, I was pretty much out of my mind."
Then the Presidential limo targeted Browne, pulling up at his feet.
"Bush pops out. He's with Laura and Mr. and Mrs. McCain. He takes one look at me and says, 'You all right?' I say, `Frankly, between you and me, I'm a little beside myself.' But he just smiled, told me I'd be fine, and complimented the belt I was wearing. My belt, for chrissakes. For whatever reason, that relaxed me. After that, we just started shooting the shit."
Browne remembers the moment Bush walked through the front door of his 16th Street speak-easy as the most remarkable of the evening.
"The place was absolutely packed, but you could hear a pin drop. Then he just walked into the crowd shaking hands and saying hello. He broke the tension himself. Security didn't shield him. I could have strangled him myself at any moment."
"During dinner," Browne recalled comically, "CNN tried to interview Alberto, our non-English speaking cook, enlisting our barely-English speaking busboy as translator. Of course, those were pre-E-Verify times, so I don't think any labor laws were skirted."
After dinner, Presidential photographers presided over some picture-taking. A photo and official White House thank letter you were hand-delivered to Browne by a government suit some days later.
"Granted, I look a little twisted," Browne confesses, "but McCain's pained expression takes the cake. You'd think he'd just finished a prostate exam rather than dinner."
As always, Richardson Browne exercises his right to be irreverent.
"Without fail, I look at that picture at least once a day. It's hung over my toilet."
Anonymous has seen it all in 25 years of waiting tables and tending bar at some of the Valley's most beloved restaurants.
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