Where: Bern's Steakhouse, 1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa
Must-Do? Says Who? George W. Bush & family
Casualties: 238.37, dinner; $42.53, dessert
We never saw the dining room at Bern's. When we visited with Brian's family, we were relegated to the lounge because Brian's brother wasn't wearing pants. He did have shorts on, however, which we thought adequately covered all of his essential parts, but apparently his kneecaps offended the sensibilities of the maîtres d'.
"Bern's has never allowed shorts in the dining room," they said with an historical reverence that must've once cushioned phrases like, "America has never allowed women to vote."
Brian argued. They scoffed. Brian begged for an explanation (Sanitation? Superstition? Over-stimulation? Good old-fashioned discrimination?) There was none. Finally, he resorted to sex appeal: "Do you not find my brother's legs attractive?" But these hostesses were humorless and Brian's efforts futile.
We still managed to have a gloriously irreverent time, thanks to a gregarious waiter and a bottle of Chénas Domaine de la Combe Remont (ca. 1985, a steal at $22.80). Our laughter escalated as we observed one ostentatious oddity after another. A man resembling an embalmed Parisian duke (complete with frilly collar, blossoming cuffs, tails, lacquered hair and make-up) sat with painfully perfect posture sipping a martini. Our waiter told us that he does not work there but is a "regular."
The kitchen tour, which took us past cheese rooms and sprout gardens and fish silos and antique coffee roasters and slab upon slab of aged meat, ended in the largest wine cellar in the world (the largest one attached to a restaurant, at least). When the Bucs won the 2003 Super Bowl, Warren Sapp celebrated at Bern's by ordering their most expensive bottle — an 1851 Gruaud Larose for $10,000. We asked the sommelier what it tasted like.
"It was good," he said.
We were escorted to a private booth in the Harry Waugh Dessert Room. So romantic. So private. "Oh, if these walls could talk," we mused. But the waiter did talk, regaling us with stories of sexual conquest, all of them ending with, well, dessert.
Brian's family opted for less promiscuous fun, submitting requests to the house accordionist. We ogled the menu for a while but eventually settled on the house favorites: the Cappuccino Bern's Steakhouse and the infamous macadamia nut ice cream, which took Bern himself seven years to perfect and was referred to by our waiter (who called it "the MacNut") as "the best ice cream ever."
It was good.
There was also a visit to the restroom, where Ted faced the most infuriatingly complex toilet system he's ever encountered. (And that's saying a lot.) With one press of a green button, a used plastic seat cover is sucked away and magically replaced with a fresh one that seems to appear from nowhere.
And then you take a poop.
Later on, Brian's dad had an enlightening conversation in the same restroom. "Did you have a nice evening?" he asked a man at the urinal. "Oh yes," the man replied. "It's funny: I bought an expensive bottle of wine, and now I'm just pissing it away."
Extravagance may spiral into silliness at Bern's, but that's all part of the appeal. You may be peeing in the same urinal that once served as a receptacle for le pipi de Président Bush, who has dined there several times. In fact, the owners of Bern's have put your business and their earnings to good use in several maximum contributions to the 2004 Bush campaign.
So don't worry, urinal man. You didn't piss your money away.