Bar Belle: El Paraiso

El Paraiso
1916 14th St. N.W.

It was past midnight and we were huddled outside the Black Cat, cursing it loudly and shivering violently as we waited our turn in line. I served as human shield from the bouncer, leaning casually against the brick wall as three of my friends stood behind to upend beers into their mouths. I served as designated apologizer as they screamed obscenities at people they watched take a cigarette and then flit back inside without waiting. I was also cold as hell, the feeling gone from my feet and my knees threatening to buckle out from under me.

We realized we had been waiting in the heart of hipster D.C. for four people to leave a free, body-heated dance night dedicated to awesomely bad music. We were never getting in.

We bailed and stalked an ice-slick 14th Street for someplace indoors that sold booze. A bright neon sign in the shape of a margarita across the street shone out to us like a beacon of hope, so we skidded across the crosswalk and hurried inside.

We found ourselves inside El Paraiso, a restaurant-bar that bills itself as a Mexican-Salvadorian spot. We got in, defrosted, devoured the free chips and salsa, then ordered a pitcher – giant, and $25 – of margaritas and an “appetizer sampler” of chicken wings, jalapeno poppers and mozzarella sticks. My friend called the pair “tequila juice” with a “ballpark sampler.” They were delicious.

“Telenovelas” played silently from the room’s corners as off-toned karaoke and colored lights spilled in from a side room. The singing was less embarrassing than most of what my friends were saying – a mixture of poorly articulated ethnic commentary and slurred remarks on the superiority of New Wave and the inferiority of the Black Cat. Everyone else in the restaurant was sipping beers, watching TV and eating soups layered with steak and shrimp. My friends were living an angry, drunken haze – the result of hours of pre-gaming for a game that never started.

“Why didn’t you order Hispanic food?” one friend said, too loudly. Then, wildly, “What!? Can’t I call it Hispanic food? What’s wrong with that! Is something wrong with calling it Hispanic food now!?”

Later, to our Polish friend, he said: “I can’t believe your mom wouldn’t give me her recipe for goulash.”

“You don’t know anything about the Gulag,” the Polish kid shot back. “Don’t you talk about the Gulag. My relatives went through that. It was horrific.”

At one point, he held my shoulder with his left hand, ate a chicken wing with his right, and maneuvered his elbow to rub the shoulder of the girl next to him. For that night and that night only, he called us his “babies.” The cop who kept peering over at us from the next table would have agreed that we needed a babysitter.

We plowed through the appetizers and poured the pitcher like there was a hole in the bottom – partly to distract from the cold, partly because we knew we ought to get the hell out of there. I bet El Paraiso is a great place to stop in for some Hispanic food and a casual drink; it’s probably not the best place to storm in for the pitcher that will push you over the line and into end-of-the-night pass-out drunk. The bare-minimum tip and the crashed bottle of Tabasco sauce we left in our wake means we’re probably not welcome back for either. I blame the hipsters.

Bar Belle Rating:

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