Gettin’ Ripped at Hell’s Kitchen

Aside from the waitress, the bartender, and the middle-aged guy in the corner sending text messages to his prepubescent girlfriend, I’m the only one at Hell’s Kitchen tonight over the age of 23. The people at the bar are just above the drinking age. Everyone sitting down and eating is obviously still in high school. Even the bartender is questionable in this respect. As I climb onto my stool, he’s pouring shots for a group of squeaky-clean youngsters at the end of the bar, all of them gathered here on this Thursday night to drink at a supposedly edgy restaurant in Duluth’s least-edgy business district, Canal Park.

The walls are painted black, and the red artwork is by Hunter S. Thomson’s best buddy, Ralph Steadman. The waitress is doing her best Bettie Page impression. There are black curtains draped here and there, and the shelves along the back wall are stocked with T-shirts for sale. All in all, the experience feels a lot like you’re dining and drinking at Hot Topic.

“You got a bracket goin’?” the bartender asks, plopping a red napkin in front of me. I stare at him for a second, confused, before noticing the NCAA basketball tournament on the TV behind the bar.

“Um. No.” I say. He asks me what I want, and before I can ask if there are any specials going on, the drunkest of the tweens in the corner — a cute but pathologically obnoxious girl — points at a commercial on TV and shrieks.

“I used to be that skinny! But then I drank a ton of beer in college!”

“I’ll have what she’s having,” I say. The bartender doesn’t miss a beat. First he pulls me a pint of Fallen Angel, Hell’s Kitchen’s signature beer, which is infused with habanero peppers. I take a sip that sets my mouth on fire, just as the girl and one of her friends start singing, “Heeeey Juuuuuude! Don’t make it baaaaaaad! Go aheeeaad and feeeeel betteeeeeeer!” A couple of the guys in the group hunch a little lower over their beers and smirk. Habanero beer, man. Tomorrow her butthole’s gonna be burning for two reasons.

Meanwhile, the bartender is pulling bottles off the shelf one after another like some kind of mad scientist, dumping amaretto on top of Chambord on top of Southern Comfort, along with several other types of booze, all of which are dumped in too fast for me to tell what they are. He returns to me triumphant, placing a large tumbler of dark red liquid in front of me. “I call this a ‘Fucken Awesome,’” he says.

I want to ask. I want to give the man my entire wallet right on the spot. I want to name my first born after him. Hell, I want to grow a uterus and give birth to his first born myself.

“How is it?” he asks.

“It … it lives up to its name.”

Satisfied, he nods and goes back to watching college basketball.

Meanwhile, the girl at the end of the bar has acquired a cell phone and has begun making calls. “You know, I graduated in three and a half yeeeeears?!” she screams into the phone. “Yes!! I know!!! And I’m working at a Oh! You know, that means so much to me, because you’re a Oh, I know!! Did I tell you that I graduated in three and a half yeeeeears?! I know!! And now I’m working at a

This goes on for a good half hour, and surprisingly, none of her friends try to stop it. The girls roll their eyes and pretend to watch the basketball game, and the guys crouch lower like housecats watching a diseased gerbil.

Predictably, the Fucken Awesome hits me like a ton of brimstone, especially since I’ve been using it to rinse the taste of hops and habanero out of my mouth. I spin around on my stool and almost run into some kid walking past. “How was the food?” I ask.

“Eh. Grandma’s,” he says, comparing it to another Canal Park restaurant.

Funny. Based on the clientele — sophomores out late on a school night, out-of-control drunks, basketball fans, predatory butt-humpers and me — I would have thought it resembled Perkin’s.