trying the Danger Menu at Denny’s

I don’t know if this is a reflection on Denny’s or on southern California. David Schmader writes in this week’s Last Days column in The Stranger:

FRIDAY, MARCH 17 For what seems like centuries, the Denny’s restaurant chain has trafficked in low-level violence, from egg-induced intestinal distress to well-publicized instances of racism. But this week, Denny’s became a contender for the deadliest place on earth, with no less than five people murdered at three different Southern California Denny’s restaurants. The Denny’s killathon began on Wednesday, when a transient with two handguns shot up a Denny’s in Pismo Beach, killing two people and wounding two others before killing himself. The bloodbath continued at a Denny’s in Ontario, where on Thursday a 37-year-old man was fatally shot in the restaurant’s parking lot. Today the whole thing wrapped up in Anaheim, where a gunman opened fire in another Denny’s parking lot, killing one man and seriously wounding another. As the Associated Press reports, “authorities are investigating,” but the moral is clear: Don’t go to Denny’s unless you’re ready to die.

I’ve always liked going to Seattle’s Denny’s precisely for that reason, that perceived sense of danger. I usually make it point to go to Denny’s after 11pm when the number of drunken patrons, and thus the probability of unfortunate encounters, increases.

The Ballard Denny’s — at 15th Ave NW and Market Street– will do in a pinch, of course, but it is far too clean and well-behaved. It is almost unlike a proper Denny’s experience, a Disneyland version of Denny’s. For a more honest experience, one needs go to the 4th Avenue South location in SODO. I love that Denny’s, especially its greater diversity. Less drunken white hipsters and more drunken post-frat Pioneer Square revelers, blue collar blokes from the south end, loud Asian scenesters, bandaid-bra-clad high school girlies, and a good mix of ethnicity and color beyond white American indie-rock hipsters. Being an industrial area, SODO is a sort of neutral zone that draws many different populations searching for scarce late-night chow. Also, it becomes a ghost town after union-mandated quitting time for the first-shift rolls around. As a result, the Denny’s provides the only oasis of activity in a landscape that’s largely had its switches flipped to the off position.

This whole industrial district of SODO, not just the Denny’s, excites me. I never tire of taking relaxing late night drives around there. As a street, 4th Avenue South is one of the more archetypal urban-industrial thoroughfares we have in Seattle. It is immensely wide, certainly relative to Seattle streets although its width is on par with similar streets in other cities. I could easily see 4th Ave S on Chicago’s South Side.

The most memorable approach to it is from the north, when one is headed southbound on 4th Ave. The restaurant sits squat on the left side of the wide street and its view opens up as a refuge in a city that does not have many 24-hour businesses. The interior’s lighting spills out of the large windows and serves as a beacon guiding weary drivers to salty grease and unconscionable coffee.

The architecture of the Denny’s is particularly spanking as well. As I’ve not been there in a number of weeks, I write this from memory. What stands out about its style is that it is something in between Commercial Modern and Roadside Kitsch. The tall-ish roof/ceiling has a nice, undulation to it. The light fixtures, if I remember correctly, are compelling as well. It’s a little bright inside but a somewhat quietly cheery and soft-filtered 1970s bright. They easily film a tele-drama scene here and it would look like something straight out of Starsky &Hutch, perhaps, or Colombo. I also enjoy that it is laid out as one giant space, under Grease, with polyunsatured fats and hash browns for all.

Having said that, though, I am disappointed in the changes made to their late night menu several months ago. My main impetus for going to Denny’s is chicken fingers. That’s the only reason to choose the place over others. All I want at midnight:30 is some damn chicken fingers. And while I believe that the appetizer sampler platter has one or two chicken fingers, the late night (or is it late nite?) menu lacks an entire meal devoted to gallinaceous phalanges. Perhaps this is the reason I’ve not been there in a while.

At any rate, I always feel like I’m taking a risk by wearing girly things when I go there, unlike feeling perfectly normal doing so when I go to Beth’s, for example. In recent visits, my Hot Research Associate and I have kissed intently outside in the parking lot within plain view of the people who shot smirks and weird looks as we were on our way out. At other times, potentially deadly situations have been diffused by the good will and entertainment value of my car.

On the other hand, I have taken Mr. Schmader’s writing to heart. I now resolve to make peace with the world and with myself before venturing to that late night haven –- for if the grease doesn’t kill me, perhaps I will meet my end at the hands of a distraught Californian. Or maybe I’ll just whither from the disappointment of once again being denied my chicken fingers.

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