Literati, Lyrics, and Langostinos at the Grand Finale

This was a favorite hangout of mine in Tallahassee in the early 1990s, when I had delusions/pretensions of being a short-story writer and was penning a column for the local paper. I spent many an evening downstairs in the restaurant eating and drinking with friends from the English Department and upstairs listening to fiction and poetry readings in the bar.

Joe Clark
Community Column #7
to run 5/26/92

Literati, Lyrics, and Langostinos at the Grand Finale

I have to admit it. Occasionally, something good can be found in the city. It ain't all out there in the sinkholes, or up in trees. Sometimes real things come to life amidst the asphalt and cinderblocks.
I'm talking about right down on the Tennessee Street Strip, that bar-bedecked place where in the evenings tipsy revelers stroll from juke to juke within inches of the humming traffic. Specifically, smack dab in the middle of a decaying block of buildings between Raven and Dewey. Halfway between the downstairs glitter-thump of Kahuna's and the espresso library of Yianni's.
I'm talking The Grand Finale.
'Cept nobody I know calls it that. It's just Finale's--two floors of bar and restaurant that offers great food for the belly, ears, heart, and head. And no, I'm not related to the owner.
Best way to approach Finale's (and a lot of other things, too, for that matter) is from the rear. Park and lock it in the lot out back. Look for heavy wooden doors surrounded by tropical fish, like guards outside Neptune's favorite honky-tonk. On your way in you can dodge or give audience to a panhandler or two, depending on your wont (I'm an inveterate sucker for a lively tale of woe), and maybe hear the strains of a street saxophonist echoing from the parking garage under McDonald's. Think of these as appetizers.
The ground-floor restaurant is a dim, cool place, low-ceilinged and heavy-beamed. A tavern. A converted gold-mine. Slip into a casual booth and in no time at all a relaxed but quite efficient wait-person will arrive with menus. Maybe it'll be Susan, raiser of squirrels--or possibly Mike, who has been known to cram nine people into his Toyota van and head for the sinkholes at two a.m. on a moonlit January night.
The staff at Finale's make every effort to avoid conventional dress. No barber-striped franchise fernbar aprons or hokey bow ties here. Shorts and T-shirts seem to be the rule for men, while the women's attire makes Stevie Nicks look positively prosaic.
And the food. Ashby Stiff I ain't, but this is definitely five-burp fare, especially if you're a lover of things that swim, crawl, or slither under da sea. Seafood gumbo so spicy you'll cry for joy. Crayfish, oysters, shrimp--fresh off the boat and still kicking, for the most part. Ah, new potatoes with etoufee. . . well, enough of that. Be sure to thank Joey and Jim and the other guys back in the kitchen on your way out.
But don't leave yet! After a dessert of Haagen-Dazs or cheesecake, waddle past the TV set and head upstairs to Tennessee-Street level, where the music plays and ice-cold longnecks are dispensed with alacrity by LeeAnn, known to sport a low-brimmed hat and steal surreptitious glances at Final Jeopardy on the set behind the bar--or perhaps Mindy, who will flatter you by asking for an ID.
And then? It all depends on the night of the week. Maybe it'll be a crash-and-clang band with a name apparently bestowed by an aphasic magus. Or perchance you'll have arrived in the midst of wailing guitars and crying harmonicas, played by lean men who smoke cigarettes between chords: the Blue Monday Jam. It's different every night, and you can usually get a preview by cocking an ear towards the ceiling while feasting on sea-critters downstairs.
My favorite night--especially since I've become something of a half-baked hanger-on of the creative-writing crowd at FSU's English Department--is Tuesday. They call it Poetry Night, but you're just as likely to hear a selection from someone's novel-in-progress, or a wickedly witty short story. Both local and imported writers brave the lurid red stage-lights and occasional mike failures to strew their words across a lively and receptive audience that grows church-quiet during the readings. You may hear mildly erotic poetry. Tales of the absurd. Ripping yarns and thought-provoking meditations--and hardly a black beret in the place. Some writers read quietly, plainly, almost shyly--as if any taint of "performance" would profane the pure force of their eloquence. Others fairly bristle with anger, love, and/or humor. And never--well, almost never--a dull moment, though there are plenty of strange ones.
Beats network TV, though, don't it?
Tallahassee could use a dang sight more of this kind of thing. Any place could.
Go on. Give it a try. You never knew Tallahassee was so literate. Tonight, fiction writers Rob McGrogan and Paul Laffan belly up to the mike at 8 pm. Better get there early. And next Tuesday, poet Karen Janowsky rides the muse, along with a certain community columnist who shall remain, as always,

Joe Clark, an admitted crustaceophile and shameless self-promoter, who is a writer/editor and instructional project manager at FSU.

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