Several days ago I met up with longtime friends Alan Hirsch (known since 1973), Jennifer Bishop (1979) and Michael Yockel (1980) for our quarterly coffee klatch at Corner Pantry in Baltimore County, right past the city line. It’s a tradition that began two days before Baltimore’s Covid lockdown in 2020, and you never know what topics will come up—politics are rarely discussed—aside from family updates and our respective surrenders to the indignity of aging. After a cursory dismissal of today’s media, we inevitably drifted into the arena of weekly newspapers—we all worked at Baltimore’s City Paper—and gave a collective shrug at that industry’s demise, since it’s a conversation no longer relevant, aside for the sake of nostalgia.
Michael asked if anyone had news about Patty Calhoun, a cowgirl who for years edited Denver’s Westword, a fine and profitable paper—owned by the New Times chain of weeklies, run by my decades-long friends Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey, now bogged down (for five years) in a malicious and spurious lawsuit brought by the government over their former “Backpage” website—and I piped in to say I saw a picture six or so months ago of Patty on Facebook and that she looked wonderful, still wearing her cowboy boots and turquoise jewelry. Patty was a trip—an admired member of the fraternity of weekly newspaper editors and publishers across the country—and though I haven’t seen her in years, I’ve no doubt that she still can make men and women squirm with just a withering side glance. And then make a joke to diffuse any potential nastiness. I remember taking a taxi to Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel (where I first ate buffalo and Rocky Mountain Oysters in ’76) in 1990, where the annual Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention was taking place, and the driver asked, maybe because I was wearing a suit, “Are you here for Patty’s big shindig?” She was the unofficial mayor of Denver.
I saw Patty a lot in Manhattan in the late-1980s and 1990s when she visited her convivial sister Katie, and she stopped by my New York Press offices at the Puck Building at around six many evenings, and a slew of us, all friends, would convene at El Teddy’s, a popular Tex-Mex restaurant in Tribeca that had an enviable run—for a restaurant—for 15 years. Like many businesses downtown, customers dried up after 9/11 and it was shuttered in 2004.
El Teddy’s, visible from my family’s Powell Building loft at Hudson and Franklin Sts., was the “fancy” spot that was a regular for NYPress staffers, a tick more than Milano’s and 288 on Houston St., Riverrun on Franklin, and Puffy’s just a shout away. There was no pretense that their brand of Mexican cuisine was the equal of spots in Los Angeles, Phoenix or Dallas, for example, but in a city that wasn’t long on reliable tacos and “individually dressed” nachos—seven artfully presented chips with beans, beef, sour cream, a dollop of guacamole and a jalapeno sliver—it was a standout. I can’t count the number of times I ate there—and my wife and I chose El Teddy’s for a very raucous reception immediately after our wedding—but never had a bad meal.
It wasn’t a “writer’s salon” and didn’t have the celebrity appeal, thank the baby Jesus, of Odeon or Union Square Café, for example, but I almost always ran into someone I knew. Their margaritas were a draw, and were very good, especially if you coached the bartender as to what tequila you preferred and requested no salt. (I never understood the elaborate ceremony among people drinking shots of tequila, making a big deal of sucking down some lime, licking the salt and then downing the drink, with a theatrical toss of the head. Tequila really took off in the early-1970s after the Stones, on their Exile tour, were constantly photographed with tequila sunrises; and though I no longer drink I don’t think the allure has evaporated, like, say Absolut or Stoli vodka.)
There was an 18-month ban placed upon NYPress by El Teddy’s owner after, in my MUGGER column, I mildly criticized a spin-off restaurant, which was weird, since ET had NYP “Best of Manhattan” plaques in their window, but at some point a peace pipe was smoked and we were allowed back in. That aside, I sure wish there was an equivalent of El Teddy’s in the now restaurant-deprived Baltimore (in the 1980s, The Cultured Pearl in Pigtown was great, as was the short-lived El Charro at Brown’s Arcade on the not-yet-ravaged N. Charles St.), but I no longer wish upon stars, brilliant, dark or dirty.
Look at the clues to figure out what year it is: Democrat Tom Foley was Speaker of the House; Pan Am files for bankruptcy protection and Eastern Airlines folds; The Adventures of Pete & Pete debuts on Nickelodeon; the Dow closes above 3000 for the first time; Magic Johnson announces he has HIV; Mike Trout is born and Luke Appling dies; Ted Turner is Time’s Man of the Year; Barton Fink wins the Palm d’Or at Cannes; and John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest wins fiction Pulitzer.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023