Alzu's | 811 Bay Street | Victoria
09 Dec 2009 · by Brennan Storr · Be the first to comment!
UPDATE - January 26, 2011: According to neighboring businesses, Alzu's was closed as of Thursday. "Personal vehicles" were seen out front on Friday, possibly loading equipment. As of today the restaurant sits empty. A local business owner says that he spoke to Julio Alzu last week and that Alzu claimed to be "tired of running the restaurant" and was going "home to Guatemala".
Now we mourn the passing of a giant. Let us blunt our grief with the words of W.H. Auden.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
This time, Max & I corralled our good friend Dan, took leave of civilization and braved the badlands. Dan’s majestic Monte Carlo rolled past the plains of Leng and the mountains where Rokhnm the cruel winter God slumbers, straight into the dust-blown hinterland known as Bay Street. Little is known about the history of Bay Street, although conjecture abounds: Some say it was partially hand-paved by Satan in the 12th century before he became bored and outsourced the rest of the job to a handful of Chinese schoolchildren. Some say that it’s been there since time immemorial, a lonely ribbon of blacktop waiting out the ages until Man found his way out of the garden and into the drug trade.
Victoria’s choice of late-menu eating options are limited to Alzu’s or Denny’s, while Denny’s presents better, with warmer lighting, brighter surfaces and more polish, for us it’s Alzu’s every time. Denny’s service tends to be lacking and the restaurant itself feels a bit like McDonald’s. Not the McDonald’s on the corner of Douglas & View you understand, which instead of a fast-food joint feels like an outpatient facility that also sells hamburgers, but a McDonald’s all the same.
I have personally never eaten at Alzu’s during the day and though they advertise as being open 24 hours, part of me wants to believe that the place vanishes in the morning light, like Error the Bear’s Nightmare Carnival. Turn up at the witching hour and you’ll find that late night customers are usually few and far between. The insomniac, the addicted, the terminally lonely and the drunk all pass through the doors into the restaurant’s fluorescent glow.
On this occasion we arrived just past 11pm and the place was busier than usual. Nevertheless we were promptly met by one of Alzu’s premier night servers, Willam. He is one of the best waiters in Victoria and I’ll fight any man who says otherwise. He’s always welcoming, and helpful without being overbearing. The cynical amongst you will say that his brio is less than genuine and that the entire time we’re in his presence he’s imagining our brutal destruction by falling space rocks, but if so he’s never tipped his hand. Quite honestly, given how often he refills drinks and his uncanny ability to know when to leave you alone, he’s earned the privilege of hating us to death.
We were offered our choice of seating and after settling into the large corner booth our drink order was taken immediately. Mark also filled us in on the evening special, a bacon & cheddar burger for $8.95. If you’re new to this, when a diner offers you an “evening special” it means: “This is what our chef feels like cooking tonight. You may order something else, another burger, for example, and we’ll all get along fine. Order an eggs benedict and you will disappear into the hostile night, never to be heard from again.” Finding a loaded burger under $10 in this city is rare enough, never mind on a late-night menu, so that was the unanimous choice. Our drinks arrived shortly after, coffee for Max & I and chocolate milk for Dan.
As we waited for our food to arrive, we talked and listened to the radio, tuned to KISM out of Bellingham playing “Nights with Alice Cooper”, where the man himself plays some great overlooked hard rock gems. Compare that to Denny’s where you’re likely to get either canned music or god forbid, Ocean FM. I normally detest music in restaurants but a late-night diner is different; without musical accompaniment the only sound we’d have during breaks in conversation would be the hum of the lights, soft weeping and the sound of cocaine being snorted off a toilet seat.
Now and again I find myself thinking that it's impossible for a restaurant to screw up something as simple as a hamburger. Usually that kind of thinking makes it as far as the next time I’m hungry and find myself at the Bent Mast. Suddenly I'm back in ninth grade, Peggy has left me for that suave foreign bastard from her drama class and my heart is broken all over again. Then, with not a Vera’s Burger Shack in sight I return to the warm bosom of Julio Alzu to find solace and have my faith renewed. Our burgers were good, cooked all the way through, finished with actual cheddar cheese and four slices of bacon. Toppings were limited to lettuce and tomatoes, which is usually good enough although Max's tomato slice had started to turn. The fries met all the base criteria, being warm and tasting of salted potato, but didn't go much further. If buffets have taught us anything it’s that the only thing which can overcome mediocrity is volume and on this score Mr. Alzu failed to deliver: there were not nearly enough of our half-assed french fries. You may say that this is a minor quibble, because really, how much ketchup and Tabasco-soaked food should anyone be eating at midnight?
Alzu's is a comfortable place to spend a couple hours with friends enjoying good diner food and great service. If at midnight there's something else you're looking for it's probably not legal. Finally, on our way out we saw a very lovely, very drunk young lady bent double outside by the newspaper box loudly divesting herself of her meal in what was no doubt the high point of her evening. Not going to get that at Il Terrazzo, now are you?
It only now occurs to me that the View & Douglas McDonalds is also open 24 hours which opens up your options for late-night meals if you have no interest in eating anything that resembles food. You’re still better off at Alzu’s, though: the food and service are light years better, there are fewer derelicts hanging about and you're much less likely to be stabbed. You are however still just as likely to watch a drunk woman toss her biscuits on the sidewalk. Sometimes we nighthawks have to roll with the punches.