Drinking with Charles Mudede
The Between Space at El Quetzal
There is a curious space in El Quetzal, a Mexican joint on Beacon Hill. It exists exactly between the bar and the restaurant. Now, we have heard of Starbucks's concept of a "third space"—the cafe as between home space and store space (the resulting space being a public living room). But El Quetzal has a table and two chairs set in a niche that's not the bar and not the restaurant. What to call it? The maximum capacity for this small space is two. A third person could only stand and block the communication between the dining area and drinking area. And the two who sit here face each other and are separated by a lamp that looks like a miniature lighthouse and the vermicular etchings on the surface of the table. On the east side of the furniture is a wall that holds a long painting of a woman with dark and large breasts. On the west side, a window that boasts a view of busy Beacon Avenue, some old apartments, some big trees, and a salon, Hair Skill Design, with a reputation for being cheap and yet professional. Written on the glass itself are the remarkable words "A BOOK ABOUT DEATH." More remarkable yet, the last three letters in the word "DEATH" are upside down.
What is this death business about in the between space? El Quetzal is also a gallery space: Quetzalcoatl Gallery. The writing on the window is related to an exhibit, A Book About Death Seattle, that happened here in the fall of last year. The walls in the bar, which has its own name, El Quetzal Lounge, display contemporary pieces of art that are part sculpture and part painting. And the walls in the restaurant have copies of Diego Rivera's lily paintings, the most recognizable of which (at least for me) is Vendedora De Alcatraces (a young, kneeling woman hugging white lilies in her earth-brown hands).
A quick word about the food and drinks at El Quetzal. The bar has everything you need and is not costly, though the house wine, which is $6.50 a glass after happy hour, needs to not be so sweet. The food, however, is very good. During my visit, I enjoyed a fish taco that involved thick apple slices. This was the first time I ate such a taco in my life—and it really worked, this mixing of the fruits of the land with the fruits of the sea—and I thought that maybe it was popular in some region of Mexico. "No, it is not," said the young bartender to me. "My uncle has a big imagination. He came up with the idea by himself. He thought it might be good, and he was right. It is good."