345 Fourth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
"Don’t rush me!”
Dion’s voice cuts through the noise. She’s barking at a customer who wants to pay up and go. “Besides, you haven’t drunk enough yet. We have rules!”
Dion walks away muttering, under a bunch of bras that hang from the ceiling. Ditched by customers, they look like butterflies.
Me, I’ve just arrived. It’s around 10:00 p.m. I take a stool at the bar, as some pretty drunk people sitting at a table get up to leave.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” one guy in the party sobs at a girl. He looks like Harry Potter’s sidekick, Ron Weasly. “I’m really, really sorry…uh, can I have a hug?”
“Outside,” the gal says.
Dion comes across the bar at me, like a shark attacking a surfboard. “Hope you’re not going to give me trouble,” she says. She slaps down a bunch of plastic menu sheets.
“Anything free tonight?” I ask. Joking, of course, but you never know.
“Jeez!” says Dion. “Why do I get all the…if you pay for something, I might throw in some celery sticks. Take it or leave it.”
Fact is, I’m close to broke. Only came in because I liked their sign on the street. “Dick’s Last Resort. The Shame o’ the Gaslamp.” Inside, trestle tables stretch from the Fourth Avenue entrance clear through to a Fifth Avenue gateway. It’s a jamboree of loud music, whooping guys, shouting waiters, wild laughter. People wear tall chefs’ toque-style/Cat-in-the-Hat hats that the management has been doling out. There are a bunch of signs, like, “Dick Sez Yer In Da Way. MOVE IT,” and T-shirts hung up in the rafters. I see a blue one with “DEA” in big yellow letters; “Drink Every Afternoon” in smaller print below.
You get caught up in it. Maybe I have enough change for something to tide me over till the next bus.
I scan Dion’s menus. Stick to the “finger foods” section, mostly around eight bucks. Everything else is $12–$20.
First on the list is Gator Bites. Here’s how the menu puts it: “Dat der be deep fry’d alligator, baby! Served with chipotle ranch fer dippin’. Oh, go ahead & try ’em, ya sissy!” They’re $7.99. Same price for Crabby Balls, ten crab-meat balls served with chipotle dipping sauce and fries. Love Me Tenders (chicken tenders) are also $7.99. Motha Cluckin’ Good Chicky Wings go for a buck more.
The cheapest thing on the list is Crawdaddies, $6.99. “1/2 lb. of Cajun crawfish sautéed in butta and Old Bay. Pinch da tail and suck da head.”
Okay, also cheapest at $6.99 is Tequila Queso con Carne Mucho Supremo. “It’s cheez & chili dip, el stupido!” And, oh yeah, Cheez Sticks, $6.99.
What’s a man to do? Comes down to Crawdaddies or Gator Bites. Decide I need those Gator Bites. Alligator meat, I’ve heard, has a fishy taste.
“And to drink?” asks Dion.
“Any chance of just, like, water?”
I’ve left her speechless. But she grabs a large plastic glass, fills it, and even adds a squeeze of lemon.
The gator tastes surprisingly great. No fishiness, more like chicken. I’m trusting them that this really is the swamp monster. Whatever. Battered and fried, then dunked in the chipotle dip, it’s delicious. Plus, Dion does bring me a basket with celery sticks and ranch sauce.
“Free,” she says. “I went way out on a limb.”
For eight bucks, the gator doesn’t look like a lot, a dozen little bite-size pieces.
“Maybe it was a small gator,” I say to Dion.
Maybe she’ll bang my face on the counter for dissing Dick’s gator. But no, she seems to understand my plight.
“If you want to get the biggest bang for your buck,” she says, “go for the Macho Nachos next time. They’re $8.99, but they’ve got tequila queso cheese chili, jalapeños, sour cream, the whole nine yards. You should’ve said you were hungry right off.”
Turns out, by the time I get through the dozen gator chunks, I’m pretty much filled up.
“So, who’s Dick?” I ask Dion.
“He’s a guy who started a fine-dining place in Dallas, Texas,” she says. “Wasn’t doing that great. Then they had some kind of an accident. A wall fell. It destroyed the business. So they took what they could, set it back up haphazardly, got a bunch of crummy, loud-mouthed waiters, and it worked. That was 1985. We were number three, here in San Diego. Now they have 12. You have to have a certain kind of personality to work here. Guess I have it. It’s been ten years.”
Two tables over, seven young ladies are giggling and shouting up a storm. One of the waiters has put a tall “Cat” hat on Anna. It’s her party. She’s 19 tonight.
The waiter has scrawled a couple of messages on it: “Lookin’ For Hot B’Day Action,” says the front. And on the back “FYI: She’s easier to get into than Jr. College.”
But, hey, here, you can say this stuff. Dick says so. ■
The Place: Dick’s Last Resort, 345 Fourth Avenue (between J and K Streets), Gaslamp Quarter, 619-231-9100
Type of Food: American
Prices: Gator Bites, deep-fried alligator chunks with chipotle ranch, $7.99; Crabby Balls (ten crabmeat balls, chipotle sauce, fries), $7.99; Love Me Tenders (chicken), $7.99; 1/2 lb. crawdaddies, $6.99; Tequila Queso con Carne Mucho Supremo (cheese-and-chili dip), $6.99; main dishes from $12–$20
Hours: 11.00 a.m.–1:00 a.m. daily
Buses: 3, 11, 120
Nearest Bus Stops: Fourth and G ( for #3, and #120, Southbound); Fifth and G (3, 120, northbound); Market and Third (for #11 southbound); Market and Fourth (for #11 northbound)
Trolley: Orange Line (closer than buses)
Nearest Trolley Stop: Gaslamp Quarter (at Fifth and L)