Food & Drink

The Business of Audacity

The International American Food in a New Ethiopian Bar

The Business of Audacity

Kelly O

THE TRANS AM A part of the trans-American dream.

If you walk down Bole Road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, you will eventually come across a jet plane attached to a five-story building. Together, this building and jet plane form the London Cafe & Satellite Restaurant, a popular establishment that has local and international menus and at night offers "live music on the plane," which, by the way, is really a structure that's made to look like a plane. If you want to dine in a real decommissioned plane, you'll have to go to the one in Colorado Springs, or the one in Mangaweka, New Zealand, or (if you are very brave or very stupid or both) the one in Damascus, Syria. Sadly, the best-ever restaurant plane is not accessible without a time machine, as its South Korean owners demolished it in 2010—the jumbo jet had been a success as a commercial plane but a total failure as a noodle restaurant. I bring all of this up because the first thing that caught my eye when I walked into Wonder Coffee & Sports Bar, a new East African joint on Jackson and 19th, was the front of a Trans Am beneath a shelf containing blue lights and bottles of wine.

I saw in the Trans Am the same spirit as the plane in Addis Ababa. This spirit has less to do with eccentricity and more to do with audacity. As the effort and expense of modeling your restaurant as a commercial airplane in a poor city like Addis Ababa is audacious, an East African businessperson opening a huge bar/cafe/restaurant in the middle of a rich and major American city is also audacious. The Trans Am with the license plate for Colorado, the blinging hubcaps, the number 1800 painted on its hood, the splashy hiphop graffiti of Seattle's skyline (the Space Needle, the box the Space Needle came in, the bright moon in the sky), the lights that in the real world open and close by pressing a button—all of this expresses, captures, echoes, reinforces the audacity of it all.

The place that houses the Trans Am from the twilight of the 20th century is at the east corner of a bland building, the Legacy at Pratt Park Apartments, that replaced the Wonder Bread factory at the end of the first decade of the post-future. What remains of the factory is now on top of the building (the big red neon sign), like a ghost on a widow's walk, and in the name of the new East African enterprise. The main section of the cafe/bar/restaurant has very high ceilings, tall windows, walls that are painted red, walls that are painted orange, walls that support a number of flat-screens, a shiny brown floor, lamps that hang from the ceiling like long upside-down tulips, an area for live music, a stocked and stacked cliff of a bar, and a dramatic flight of stairs next to the bar. The owner of this place was thinking big. He wanted to go all the way. And he did.

A part of the menu offers Ethiopian dishes. The other part offers plain American meals: hamburger and fries ($5.99), spaghetti with meat sauce ($9.95), and a chicken breast sandwich ($6.99). The Ethiopian dishes are solid—I ordered a $20 plate with everything possible—kay watt (lamb cubes in a spicy and thick sauce), yemisir watt (green lentils and chopped onions), gomen (collard greens), zilzil tibs (beef strips), and kitfo (Ethiopian steak tartare). The American meals are pleasantly unexceptional. You will not go to Wonder to eat a hamburger because you want to eat a hamburger, you will go there for the curious pleasure of eating a hamburger in an Ethiopian restaurant.

Now here is where things get wonderfully weird: The Ethiopian dishes are in the Wonder Special Ethiopian section of the menu, and the American meals are in the Wonder Special International section. When you eat a hamburger down the street, it is not international—but when you eat it in Wonder, it is. America, not Ethiopia, is international in Wonder. Now, if that's not audacity, I do not know what is. recommended

This article has been updated since its original publication.

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Comments (8) RSS

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I really was looking forward to the Wonder coffee and sports bar opening. Because Jackson st and this entire neighborhood (where I live) needs some interesting things to liven it up. Unfortunately, this place has a really odd vibe that Charles basically captured. The problem: compare this review, which reads like a restaurant review with the name of the establishment.
Right this is absolutely not a sports bar and it really isn't much of a coffee bar, it is an Ethiopian restaurant trying to throw those other pieces on. This review sadly affirms this.
It is an interesting place, but as a restaurant, it is ok, not vastly different than the other Ethiopian places in the area.
The lack of anything like a sports bar continues...
Posted by cub on April 24, 2013 at 9:52 AM · Report this
Trans Ams are racist.
Posted by excitablerooster on April 24, 2013 at 7:30 PM · Report this
inquiastador 3
Trans Ams are from racist and I get that the post was joking. The Trans Am was in fact the ultimate people's muscle car. As opposed to a Z28 of the same time period, all that gaudy flash served a real purpose. The Trans Am Could outperform a Corvette in the 70's, in every category and was much less expensive. It was the first sedan to be the Indy 500 pace car that needed no additional modifications. Not even the Corvette at that point could run the 500 for one lap as a pace car without needing modification.
Posted by inquiastador on April 24, 2013 at 10:34 PM · Report this
inquiastador 4
I meant far from racist, dammit!
Posted by inquiastador on April 24, 2013 at 10:38 PM · Report this
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You will have to forgive the owner of "wonder" restaurant, he was trying to appeal to an American audience. Trying to be modern not knowing much about the sophisticated American appetite he named his restaurant wonder and placed an odd car in there hoping to attract attention just as he has did in his native Ethiopia. He also does not speak English well so he had the restaurant in Ethiopia mail him the menu to place in "wonder" restaurant lol
Posted by afriq on April 25, 2013 at 10:52 PM · Report this
Tracy 7
My favorite bar in a decommissioned plane is in Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica. It was there in 2004 anyways...I imagine it's still there. My half-memory of the story: sometime in the 1980's this US plane crashed in Central America (during all the Iran-Contra Ollie's Follies craziness). The US gov't wouldn't acknowledge that the plane was ours. So somehow the plane ended up in private hands and is now a bar.
Posted by Tracy on April 26, 2013 at 9:26 AM · Report this
I hate The Trans Am. It reminds me of a Nazi interment camp. You should all hate it too.
Posted by iseeh8everywhere on April 28, 2013 at 6:06 PM · Report this

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