Sideways on Tenth

Ed waits for his bus with a big glass of Merlot

It's like 10:30 at night and I've got 45 minutes till my next stretch limo. There's nothing worse than being early for something. Where to fill in the time? Choices are: the bowling lanes, East Village Tavern + Bowl (930 Market Street,meats Village, 619-677-2695) and, oh yeah, just up Tenth, Cowboy Star, the steak place (640 Tenth Avenue, East Village, 619-450-5880).

Maybe they've got some late nite happy hour.

So I have to decide. Bowls, booze and broads, or play cowboy cool?

No contest. Have to say, Cowboy Star has that bricky, cowhide, low-key classy J. R. Ewing feel, plus all those Texas tunes they play, like "Luckenbach Texas," (Waylon Jennings and Willy Nelson).

"I remember it like it was today, the night J.R. got shot, on 'Dallas'," says Doug, the bartender. "I was a teenager. The news ran through the country like an electric shock. That's how big that show was."

I've hoisted myself aboard a spare stool at the intmate li'l bar behind the cowhide welcome chairs.

So the bad news Doug has to deliver is they don't have a late nite happy hour.

Probably just as well. I mean, this is an expensive steak joint. Talking $40, $50 for top of the line steaks. Heck, a side of onions is $12. Even in the Small Bites bar menu, you're looking at $14 for mussels and clams, $8 for fries and dips, $16 for steak frites.

In happy hour they take 20 percent off those prices, but still not da cheapest.

So when Doug the bartender tells me the kitchen's closed but the bar's open, I have to think fast.

Thing is, here, we're so close to the bus stop. Can even see when it comes down 10th from here. And the less I fluff about, the more time to enjoy the wait. Doug says beers are around seven, eight, house wines are eight. 'Course they would have been $5 during happy hour, three to six.

Whatever, I decide to go for a wine. A Merlot. Why? Because I have felt sorry for Merlot ever since Paul Giamatti dissed it in "Sideways," the winey road movie, in favor of Pinot Noir. So what? After the movie, California vineyards started pulling up their Merlot vines and planting Pinot Noir in their place, so the buzz goes.

Not sure what "Sideways"' problem was with Merlot, but hey, for me, when it's smooth, it's a very very smooth glug of plonk.

So here's the good news: Doug seeks out their house Merlot. It's from Washington state. And he starts pouring, and pouring, seems like. Into a huge glass.

"We tested this glass," he says. "It actually holds one complete 750ml bottle. You wouldn't think it could, but it does."

Wow. That means I must have about a third, more, of a bottle, at least. Guess you'd call that Texas largesse.

Is it worth it? The wine's called "Fourteen Hands." Named after the size of the small wild horses they used to have up there in the old days. Long story short, this beautifully smooth $8 wine lasts me right till I see da bus steaming down Tenth. One final gulp and I'm outa there, hopping the ten yards down to the bus shelter, just in time to flag down the driver.

Whew. Shouldn't have run so fast. Now gotta make sure I do a dignified entrance onto the bus. Because right now that "Texas Star" branding symbol's kinda whirling.

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