There I was, ready to enjoy some enchiladas suizas and a generous helping of tequila, when I saw them.
But first, let me be clear about the Mexican restaurant in which I was dining. Years ago, I saw Brad Pitt in the place. He wasn't around on this night, so I don't want to implicate him. The point is that this is a popular L.A. site that teeters on the edge of authenticity (good food in a simple setting) and hipster irony (the kid of place where Brad Pitt walks in to show off his bona fides).
So, I shouldn't have been too surprised to see a large table of yuppies (tangent: Do yuppies still exist?) hooting and hollering nearby. It was a birthday party apparently, and they had their own wait staff.
Now, the waiters and waitresses for our area were dressed casually, in jeans and polo shirts. The wait staff for the private party, however, was dressed, well, more colorfully.
The waitresses had frilly dresses and Carmen Miranda-style headpieces, and the waiters were decked out in campesino attire, complete with huge sombreros.
The birthday party was, as far as I could tell, made up entirely of white people. They were boisterous, with a drinking game going on where people yelled out Spanish words and then sang snippets of La Cucaracha. The wait staff -- both faux campesinos and fake Latina spitfires alike -- seemed embarrassed.
It appeared to be the restaurant's idea to cater to the private party by embracing cliché, even offensive images. So I wondered, do other establishments feel the need to do this?
If I walk into a Japanese restaurant, will I see waiters dressed like ninjas? Admittedly, that would be interesting and even kind of cool, but it would also be really fucking odd.
If I went to a French restaurant, would I see guys with handlebar mustaches wearing black berets and stripped shirts announcing the day's special in outrageous accents? Perhaps they would throw in a few insults while they were at it.
No, I don't recall ever entering an Italian restaurant, only to be greeted by an organ-grinder with a monkey on his shoulder. But perhaps this would run afoul of health and sanitation laws, and maybe that's the reason it hasn't come up.
Still, I'm pretty sure it's just Latino establishments that feel the need to pander to white customers, often in a way that undermines any claim to authenticity or ethnic pride.
In this particular case, the presentation was so negative that the restaurant alienated its customer base. Yes, everyone who was not part of the loud, obnoxious yuppie party -- and that was most of the patrons -- ate quickly and got the hell out of there. It was just that awkward.
Not even a Brad Pitt sighting could have saved the evening.