Lewis Black at City Winery | Comedy review
Lewis Black is funny. Kathleen Madigan, who opened for him, is also funny. But service at City Winery, the brand new West Loop restaurant, winery and performing arts venue that debuted last night to a packed house, was so awful that I was distracted and angry throughout most of the show.
The good news first. City Winery is beautiful—stunning, in fact. It looks like a little slice of Napa Valley was cut out of California and stitched into a less-exciting stretch of booming Randolph Street. The oenophile theme is consistent throughout, noticeable inside the performing-arts portion of the venue in the form of barrels flanking the back of the room, vaulted ceilings and a superabundance of gorgeous brick everywhere. Tables fan outward from the stage (which has been adorned, not with the requisite stool, but also with a barrel) giving way to tiered seating in back for unobstructed sightlines. A full-service menu of tapas-style bites coupled with a drink menu consisting of wines and craft brews suggests a promising room for serious comedy lovers. This isn't a stand-up venue per se, but Sandra Bernhard, for example, is slated for January 4-5.
Opening night however, was a mess. I sat down at 7:55pm and was surprised right off the bat that it took about 15 minutes to get my order taken. Things only went down from there. I ordered a glass of red wine coupled with a trio of tantalizing-sounding bites: frites, duck tacos and a Lyonnaise salad. The tacos arrived around 9:20pm, more than 70 minutes after I ordered them, and they were tiny. I could fit all three into the palm of my hand. At $10, I sincerely hope they correct this. Meanwhile, my fries and salad arrived, I kid you not, at 9:59, almost two hours after I ordered them and just five minutes before the show ended. I was literally eating dinner as 300 people around me were getting up to leave. It was embarassing. At no point during service did my server stop to acknowledge the problem or offer bread and when she finally asked me how everything was, I wasn't sure whether to scream or laugh.
To be fair, last night was opening night and I know that's rough. I know because I spent most of my twenties waiting tables and have opened restaurants before. To this day, I still cater every now and then, so I'm not blind to the challenges of large-scale food service. That's how I know City Winery could've (and should've) done better. Sensing my despair, my server did come through with an apology and comped the food portion of the bill. For this, I give her credit.
Oh yeah, I was there to see Lewis Black and he was in apoplectic form (as was I). "I don't understand why people get excited to see me," he said at the top of the show. "We'll have a great time tonight and you'll wake up tomorrow and still be swimming in the same river of shit." Black's greatest disappointment in life? It's this century, said the comic, who wondered where all the robots were to wipe his ass as promised. "This is the 20th century but in HD."
Politics were on the brain. As Black fans might imagine, he is exasperated that the health care debate is still not settled (referring to Mitt Romney's vow to repeal it on day one) and got so worked up over this bit so early into his set that he shook his head and lamented, "I've gotten too angry too early." He also listed four reasons why the country is going nowhere, placing blame evenly on Democats (likening them to a turtle lying on its back), Republicans, the Tea Party and us. "If you're a Democrat or Republican I need to know why." He also had sharp words for Paul Ryan's fascination with fiction writer and self-proclaimed objectivist Ayn Rand.
Black railed against social media, although he somewhat lost me here. I'm from an Internet generation and view it differently than a skeptical Black, who turns 64 this month. He did, however, hit a bullseye when referencing the poor performance of Facebook's initial public offering. "You thought the largest yearbook ever published would make money?"
All in all, a Black and Madigan coupling makes for an entertaining night out. City Winery, meanwhile, has some self-correcting to do. My mother is a huge Bernhard fan and I would love to take her to the January show as a Christmas present. Hopefully City Winery will have the kinks worked out by then. It had better. I once watched Bernhard rip the now defunct HotHouse a new one when she performed there in '06. It wasn't pretty.