Tapas 7232: Dining, or Dying Trying, in the Twilight Zone

One of the most bizarre dining experiences we've had in a long time

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By David Hammond

Tapas 7232 on Madison is celebrating one year in business. It's been recently remodeled by the folks at nearby Yearbook. I should have taken it as a red flag when, after checking online, I'd discovered this one-year-old place has no website. Odd.

As we walked by the big windows in front, the place looked comfortable and handsome inside, so we stopped in to check it out. It was very crowded, and the band hadn't even set up yet. Music is a big part of the allure of the place.

While we were standing at the bar, a man with a shaved head said he'd get us a table if we liked. That's what we wanted.

ME: This your place?

MAN WITH SHAVED HEAD: Yeah (eyes downcast)

Thus, with aversion and indifference, we were welcomed to what was to become one of the most bizarre dining experiences we've had in a long time.

Cue: Rod Serling, walking into frame, intoning: "You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into...

Throughout the almost 2 hours we spent at this place, we did not see anyone who worked there – host, server, cooks – break into any facial expression that could be interpreted as a smile. I'm not suggesting staff has to be grinning like idiots while they do their jobs, but there seems no joy in this place.

There was also, apparently, no drink list (the bartender pointed to a row of bottles at the top of the bar credenza and said, "That's what we have."). We both got a Red Stripe and sat down. We thought we'd start with empanadas, and we ordered three (beef, chicken and shrimp); they arrived relatively briskly, and they were fine: crisp just-fried exterior, reasonably flavorful fillings, nice sauce on the side. Fine.

Then our waitress came back and things got weird. We ordered some entrees and two more beers. And then…nothing.

15 minutes pass.

30 minutes pass.

45 minutes pass. No entrees, no beer, no eye contact or other interaction with the server. It almost seems to defy the laws of human physiology/interaction that so many staff people could pass through a room filled with people and avoid eye contact with any of them.

Time passes ever more slowly.

We start to notice others around us seemingly pleading with the server, trying to help her understand some problem to which we were not privy. There are apparently problems with orders, billing, lots of stuff. People left; those that stay cast nervous glances at the kitchen, as though wondering what, if anything, was happening in there.

People are walking out without eating. As the server (and, yes, there was just one server there that busy night) seems rarely to return to tables, it's incumbent upon diners -- when they realize all hope for dinner is lost --  to walk to the counter, just like they do at Louis' down the street, and pay the cashier.  There's nothing wrong with that approach, but this place does not otherwise seem to be going after the more casual, come-and-go diner vibe.

About this point, tables are emptying and no one is coming in to replace the vanished diners.

I got a call from my daughter and went outside.  After several minutes the server came over to my Carolyn and asked, "Did you order something more?"  She told the server that we were waiting for two more beers and two more dishes.  After a few more minutes of anxiously watching the order confusion in the kitchen, Carolyn went up to the counter and said that if the food wasn't being prepared she wanted to pay for what we had consumed.  Neither the bartender nor the server knew what we'd had so she told him, paid, and he said sorry for the mix up...while studiously avoiding eye contact. What is with the people who work here?

Outside, we ran into another couple who had just left for the same reason. They sat there for upwards of an hour, having no further contact with the server after the order was placed. No food was forthcoming, so they left to eat somewhere else. These two people, a man and a woman, seemed in their mid-twenties, and they were also concerned that "the music was too loud." I also found the music deafening, but I figured that was because I'm pretty much going deaf anyway. The band leader asked at one point if the music was too loud, several people said Yes, and then the band kept on going, without adjusting volume levels even a little. In a room this small and hard-surfaced, the case could be made that amplification of any sort is really not required, and with the dials set to 11, conversation in this quadrant of the Twilight Zone seemed as unlikely as having a normal restaurant experience (you know, the kind where when you order food, it comes, you eat, you pay and you go home more or less satisfied).

Walking back to our car, I spotted yet another couple who had been sitting next to us for maybe 20 minutes. They were now in O'Sullivan's at the corner having dinner and drinks, apparently having given up on getting anything to eat or drink at Tapas 7232.

I thought our experience was maybe a fluke, but running into a friend of mine the next morning at Oak Park Farmers' Market, he said he had exactly the same experience 6 weeks ago. "We wanted to have dinner," he said, "but finally we just paid for drinks and left."

This restaurant (although I'm not sure that term is here correctly applied) gets a lot of traffic because they have music, and the band the night we were there – The Buddy Love Review – did very capable covers of golden oldies. Walking by the band, I asked the lead singer, "So, do you perform "That Old Black Magic?" She looked confused, so I added "You know, that was the signature tune of Buddy Love, Jerry Lewis's character in the "The Nutty Professor."

She didn't get it.

And I didn't get Tapas 7232.

 

7232 Madison St  Forest Park

708.689.8077

 

 

 

 

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