Sometimes You Want to Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name*

Local RestaurantsJust about every town seems to have places where the local people gather. And in cities, different neighbourhoods have their own little cafés or restaurants that attract ‘regulars.’ If you have one of those places near you, then you know how they can add to the richness of an area. They can be good places to catch up on the gossip and meet up with friends. In crime fiction, they’re useful in a number of other ways too. They’re good places to show not tell something about the sleuth’s personal life. They’re also good places for the sleuth to hear things that can be helpful in a given investigation. And for the author, they can be very useful for bringing characters together without it seeming too contrived.

One of best-known of these crime-fictional cafés is Rosie’s, which is a regular haunt for Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. The food at Rosie’s would never be confused with gourmet cooking. But for one thing, Millhone is not really particular about her food, and she’d rather eat out than cook. And the atmosphere at Rosie’s is informal and relaxed, which also suits Millhone. Here’s what she says about the place in A is for Alibi:

 

‘The place appeals to me for a couple of reasons. Not only is it close to my home but it is never attractive to tourists, which means that most of the time it’s half-empty and perfect for private conversations. Then, too, Rosie’s cooking is inventive, a sort of devil-may-care cuisine with a Hungarian twist.’

 

Millhone sometimes meets clients there, but even when she doesn’t, the scenes at Rosie’s show the reader an interesting side of Millhone’s character.

Also a relaxed and informal local watering hole is the Busy Bee Café, one of the haunts of Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire. The Bee, as it’s often called, is one of the social hubs of Durant, Wyoming, and Longmire often hears helpful gossip when he’s there. It’s also a good place to meet up with people. The Bee also provides the food for anyone who happens to be in the county jail. Here’s the way it’s described in Death Without Company:

 

‘The Busy Bee was in a small, concrete-block building that clung to the banks of Clear Creek through the tenacity of its owner and the strength of its biscuits and spiced gravy. Dorothy Caldwell had owned and operated the Bee since Christ had been a cowboy. I [Longmire] ate there frequently and, due to its proximity to the jail, so had our infrequent lodgers.’

 

The food at the Bee is ‘down home’ comfort food, and Dorothy Caldwell is very accommodating about putting takeaway meals together if Longmire is going out of town. Longmire also knows that if someone calls him while he’s eating there, Dorothy will put the call through. It’s that kind of place.

Another very appealing local gathering place (at least to me) is Colourful Mary’s, a regular stop for Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant. Quant is a Saskatoon PI who, because he’s not a cop, often relies on local networks to get information that he needs for his cases. And Colourful Mary’s draws many of Saskatoon’s local residents. Here’s how it’s described in Amuse Bouche:

 

‘Colourful Mary’s is Saskatoon’s only publicly admitted gay-run restaurant, but over the years it has developed a wide range of loyal clientele…Marushka cooks like everyone’s mother, most notably her own. In addition to some rather standard fare for the less adventurous, Marushka always adds one or two Ukrainian delicacies to the daily menu…I like Colourful Mary’s…You feel cared for but not smothered. I’m also addicted to Marushka’s cooking.’

 

Colourful Mary’s may be a little more upmarket than the Busy Bee is, but it’s a comfortable, welcoming place. And Quant gets very useful information there at times.

Many of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels take place in the small Québec town of Three Pines. Three Pines may be small, but it’s got Olivier’s Bistro. In Still Life the bistro is referred to as

 

‘…the Central Station of Three Pines,’

 

and that’s an accurate description. The Bistro/ B & B is owned by Olivier Brulé and his partner Gabriel Dubeau, and as Gamache learns early in this series, it is in many ways the heart, soul and social hub of Three Pines. Gamache and his team certainly learn as much from the time they spend there as they do interviewing witnesses. And of course, the food is delicious.

One of Kerry Greenwood’s series features Corinna Chapman, a baker who lives and works in a large Melbourne building called Insula. One of the businesses in the same building is Café Delicious, run by the Pandamus family. It’s a comfortable sort of place that’s popular with several of the building’s regulars. For instance, Chapman’s assistant Jason Wallace frequently does justice to the food there. Here’s what Chapman says about it in Heavenly Pleasures:

 

‘There is always good money to be made at Café Delicious by betting how long it is going to take my thin scrap of a Jason to eat his way through three eggs (fried), three sausages, three rashers of bacon, two grilled tomatoes, a stack of toast and two hash browns or potato pancakes, depending on whether Grandma Pandamus or the Hungarian relief cook Kristina is dishing out the food. His record is three minutes…’

 

Of course, Jason is a teenager. But still…

And then there’s Rusterman’s Restaurant, which Rex Stout fans will know is one of the few restaurants Nero Wolfe visits, and just about the only one he visits with any regularity. And even then it’s only for an occasional meal. And with a chef like Fritz Brenner in his employ, why should Wolfe go out to eat? His willingness to eat at Rusterman’s should tell readers something about the quality of the food there.

There are also several series, including Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Memphis Barbecue series, that are based around local haunts. In those cafés and restaurants, we get to meet the ‘regulars’ in the series, and the settings are effective ways for the authors to get the sleuth involved in cases.

 

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about local haunts and places to eat have got me feeling a bit hungry. Think I’ll go down the street and see who’s at the café…

Happy Weekend, everyone!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo’s Where Everybody Knows Your Name.

16 Comments

Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Craig Johnson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Kerry Greenwood, Louise Penny, Rex Stout, Riley Adams, Sue Grafton

16 responses to “Sometimes You Want to Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name*

  1. Nice collection of cafes. But I can’t add to it – I’m too busy thinking about Cheers, and hearing that song in my head!

  2. Well, Margot, in the early years of the 20th century, there was an unnamed old man who sat in a corner of a small tearoom in London every day. He didn’t have many friends, except for a woman journalist. She would come to the teashop and sit with the old man, looking for guidance about the latest cases baffling police – and the old man would use logic to solve the mysteries (although he rarely passed on his findings to the police – he often sided with the criminals).

    I’m talking about Baroness Orczy’s stories about “The Old Man in the Corner.” He was quite a character, and the stories have held up remarkably well for a century or so!

    • Les – You’ve provided a great example of the kind of role that a gathering place like a tearoom can play in mystery stories. And you’ve reminded me that this is an excellent set of stories especially, as you say, after a century. Thanks for the reminder of them; I must look for them again.

  3. One of the writers’ groups I belong to is developing that kind of hangout at a local coffee shop. It really is fun to have a place where everyone knows your name. It also makes for fun reading in a mystery. And you’ve reminded me how far behind I am on the Kinsey Milhone series (and most other series for that matter).

    • Pat – I think it’s great that you and your writer group have a place to share your ideas. And coffee shops are great places to do that. It is really nice to have a regular ‘watering hole’ like that to meet up isn’t it? Oh, and trust me, you are far, far from the only one who’s behind in mystery series.

  4. Unlike Rebus and his regular pub, Rankin’s other character, teetotaller Malcolm Fox, hung out in The Pancake Place in Kirkcaldy. It was a real place (sadly closed now, I believe) and was in the book because Rankin auctioned the chance to appear in his next book in order to raise money for the local football team, and the owner won. I think one of the characters was also called after another auction winner, but I can’t remember which one.

    • FictionFan – I didn’t know that history of the Pancake Place – thanks. I always think it gives such an air of authenticity to a story when at least some of the places in it are real. I also think that was a very clever and creative idea for something to offer for fund raising. That’s a great story.

  5. Margot – Patricia sort of pre-empted me, but another fascinating topic for me is coffee shops or restaurants where writers hang out as regulars and even do their writing there, thought I can’t think of any mystery writer examples. Fodder for a future post? Two general examples might be: Les Deux Magots (Sartre) and the Floridita (Hemingway).

    • Bryan – That really is an interesting topic! Thanks for the ‘food for thought.’ Many, many writers spend time in coffee shops and even write there. I’ve done it myself. I’ll give that some thought.

  6. I love all those examples, Margot. Some I have read, some not. But, of course, my favorite is Rusterman’s Restaurant. I have got to reread some Rex Stout mysteries this year.

  7. Col

    There’s a bar Scudder frequents in the Block series, name escapes me…Grogan’s maybe (too lazy to look it up). I wouldn’t mind having a drink or two there.

    • Col – Thanks for mentioning Scudder; I like his character. And I think Block adds a nice touch by having Scudder’s favourite haunt also serve as his office. It would be a good place to have a drink.

  8. I love Rosie’s. And also the Indian restaurant that Milo and Alex Delaware go to on a regular basis (I can’t remember it’s name). We all have a favourite restaurant.

    • Sarah – I’m glad you mentioned Milo Sturgis and Alex Delaware and Café Moghul – that was one I forgot to include, so I’m pleased that you filled in that gap. And you’re right; we all do have favourite haunts, don’t we?

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