One chilly autumn night nearly ten years ago, Hal and I wandered three blocks north along then-sketchy 12th Avenue South and crossed the threshold of Mirror Restaurant…rather sheepishly, I should say, as we were most unattractively coated in drywall dust and related old-house grime. “Um, is it OK for us to come in here like this?” we asked the petite, glamorous woman who approached our table.
“Absolutely!” said Colleen DeGregory, who turned out to be the restaurant’s co-owner. “We’re thrilled to have neighborhood folks here.” Even filthy ones.
Most of life’s seminal moments are unidentifiable as they’re happening; who knew, as we wolfed down our first Mike D-prepared tapas that night after a day of tearing down the ceiling of our new home, that Mirror would soon become our second home, and the hub of a new community of close friends, with Mike and Colleen at its heart?
Thus began our ten-year love affair with the DeGregorys’ creation: Mirror Restaurant wasn’t just about the innovative dishes and tasty cocktails and welcoming ambiance that the DeGs so lovingly produced. Like so many works of art, it was a whole greater than the sum of its parts, a synchronicity of time, place, and artistry that brought forth magic–that sense of having come home, of warmth and comfort, that can’t be manufactured or faked.
Mirror quickly became the place to find us on any given night. If I took the time to scan my Facebook friends list, I imagine I’d find many dozens of people whom I know thanks to time logged at the bar, sitting across from Bob Dean, then Stephanie, then Mark…all of whom always seemed to know what we needed–a favorite drink, a few words of comfort, or a laissez-faire approach.
For ten years, Mirror has been the place we celebrated or mourned the major events in our lives. I’ll remember my time there as a series of glittering flashbulb moments, like a magazine spread from a decade-long Oscar night. Here’s a brief sampling of those snapshot recollections:
* My bachelor (I hate the word “bachelorette.”) party with 15 of my closest Ultimate Frisbee girlfriends.
* Seven or eight New Year’s Eve celebrations with a tableful of close friends, usually culminating with tables pushed to the walls and wild revelry to “Dancing Queen” at midnight.
* Many, many nights after the bar closed, singing at the top of our lungs with Mike and Colleen to a series of 80s metal tunes on the iPod, usually culminating in Hal’s rendition of “Come Sail Away” by Styx. (If you haven’t heard his version, you should. He is famous for it in a small Belizean village.)
* The night we brought a female WWII veteran from the Soviet Air Force in for dinner, which culminated with the two Russians, me, Colleen, and Mike doing a series of vodka toasts, narrated by the Soviet veteran bombardier.
* The amazing night we spent drinking too much with my very favorite iconic rock star, who turned out to be an absolutely lovely person. And I don’t say that just because he secretly picked up the bar tab.
* The incredible “Red Sky, Black Death” book launch party Mike and Colleen threw for me, in which Colleen decorated the place with dramatic red banners, and Mike dressed up in a Russian military uniform and made buckwheat blini to order. Even my Russian friends said his Russian feast was not only magnificent, but absolutely authentic. (Do you have friends who would spend a whole day in the kitchen creating a masterpiece for you on their one day off? If not, you should get some.)
* The night we floated in like zombies, in shock after the sudden death of a close friend (who had spent many a night there with us). Steph and Mike took one look at us and said, “You need to eat.” Mike assembled a platter of apps which tasted better than anything I have ever eaten…to my mind, because feeding somebody in a time of need is Mike D’s sincerest expression of love.
* The night we came in at 11pm, straight from the airport after 7 weeks in Belize. Ten or twelve of our closest friends waited there at the bar for us; they applauded when we walked in. There’s nothing in the world like the feeling that you’ve been missed.
There are so many more moments like this, large and small, that I can’t begin to describe them all here. And the truth is, most of the best moments weren’t the big momentous events, but the average Thursday night, when we wandered down the street and slid onto a barstool, only to find Joe Costa there, or Molly and Lindsay, Amy, Kay, Joi, Tony, Albert, Martha (miss you, Sweet Lady), Sailor Bob, Old Man Bob (RIP, my friend), Judge ____, an iconic rock star, or any of a cast of regular characters that became the colorful cornerstones of a richly-lived life, complete with hosts of friends, more than a few excellent cocktails, and the telling of many, many unforgettable stories.
It wasn’t easy to peek in the window this morning and glimpse signs of demolition inside what we had long thought of as “our” Mirror. I’ll do my best to accept whatever arises next in that space, once brightened by a wall of mirrors and the laughter of so many friends. I imagine that whenever I first darken the door of the new place, a number of ghosts will crowd into the doorway along with me and pull up a nearby barstool: Holly will be there, telling the story once more of the big, scary woman who smashed her face into the bar and drawled, “I can sprang on somebody real fast;” Judge Jerry will bang his shoe on the bar again, in his now famous Khrushchev impression; Mike D. will retell the one about the drunk guy, the urinal, and an offer Mike could refuse; Old Man Bob will converse at length with me about the more obscure nonfiction of George Orwell and the labyrinthine politics of the Spanish Civil War (and then will let loose that marvelous, braying laugh of his); and Sailor Bob will, again, tell a fascinating but convoluted tale we can’t quite follow, something to do with conspiracy on the high seas.
For me, those happy spectres will always haunt the place, just as those nights at Mirror will ever define the decade of my 30s, and just as Mike and Colleen will always reign along that now-gentrified stretch of 12South. To you both, my friends, I send my thanks across the ether: thank you for all the wonderful meals, drinks, songs, and stories; thank you Colleen and Steph for teaching me to dress like a girl and for cheering for me when I made my first, shaky attempts thereof; thank you Mike for welcoming us and feeding us at all hours of the night, and for teaching us a little something about how to move around a kitchen.
And most of all, thanks to you both for your friendship, for all the amazing meals we’ve shared inside and outside your restaurant–meals that awakened a lifelong sense of culinary adventure–and for the warm community you created at Mirror, one that will not fade, even as the original meeting place gives way to something new.
Colleen and Mike, here’s to you. Cheers! I wish you good fortune with whatever your next endeavor turns out to be, knowing full well that it will shine with an abundance of DeGregory brilliance. I should know: I’ve enjoyed basking in the reflection of that glow for ten years now.
* And to any and all Mirror friends — you know who you are — please share your favorite Mirror memories and stories in the comments section.