That which is cool must first pass through uncoolness

Olive Garden and the rules of ironic redemption, plus breadsticks.

Dear Hipster:

At what point does doing something uncool become cool for a hipster? For example, I know a true hipster wouldn’t be caught dead eating at an Olive Garden, so wouldn’t it be ironic and post-cool if he did so? Just sayin’.

— Tim Karter, assistant night manager, Olive Garden, Poway

Like Bigfoot in skinny jeans, reports of actual hipsters eating ironic dinners at fast-casual dining chains occasionally surface on the newswire. These reports lack credibility. More likely, people heard about the Onion video of the hipster Applebee’s ad (“Wouldn’t it be funny to eat at Applebee’s?”) or somebody’s blog floating out a similarly ridiculous premise. We do know that Olive Garden attempted to court the hipster dollar with its recent remodel. The seductive, Art Nouveau script of its new logo and the “Italian Kitchen” moniker both suggest that the new Olive Garden has done a stage at one or more hip bistros in Brooklyn, that the managers read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and that the gluttonous lure of limitless breadsticks no longer suffices to coax overweight American buttocks into cushy booth seating. Of course, private equity firm Starboard Value is in the process of eviscerating Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants. Starboard’s scathing review of Olive Garden’s business practices makes the meanest, most sarcastic hipster seem like a fawning Equestria Girl in comparison.

As for your larger question, that which is uncool achieves hipster credibility only after it has become 99 percent forgotten. If Olive Garden ceases to exist following a possible real estate separation and leaseback (in which the private equity firm forces Olive Garden to sell off all its real estate holdings and then pay rent on the restaurants it formerly owned), then maybe some hipsters in the 2020s will have sweet memories of, “When you’re here, you’re family!”

You can also think of it in terms of scarcity. The fact of not being able to have something imbues that something with mythological significance. For example, getting coffee from Dunkin Donuts ≠ hipster. Yearning for Dunkin Donuts coffee as a Northeasterner wandering the wilds of Southern California in anomie? Hipster, though considerably less so since there’s actually a Dunkin Donuts in San Diego. But I think the conceit stands.

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I remember reading an interview of JJ Cale from 2004 which was conducted at one such Olive Garden in Esco. JJ could be considered one of the ultimate hipster songwriters of the 20th century living in about as non hip a place as Esco/Valley Center. Was the choice of venue an ironic comment regarding the artifice of a musician interview? The mind boggles!

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