1356 Olive Way
Knee High is a self- styled “speakeasy.” I thought those went out of style with the Fox- Trot, flagpole sitting, and telling people that they’ve got “moxie.” Yet Knee High is a throwback, an anachronism, just like the Ford Model T or Blockbuster Video (but cooler).
When you go inside there’s a curtain and a dude. The dude checks your ID, which of course gave it away to me that this wasn’t an actual speakeasy, unless of course he was checking to make sure I wasn’t Elliot Ness. The dude told us “Let me see if we have a table available.” He poked his head through the curtain for a second then immediately pulled back. “I think I can arrange something for you,” he said. “Right this way.”
At Knee High “Right this way” means “3 feet from here” because the place is so damn tiny. It’s in the old Il Forno Pizzaria, which was an appropriate business to occupy this space because the building itself is pizza slice- shaped (of course by that logic, car dealerships would only be housed in giant car- shaped buildings, and the Washington Monument would be a dildo shop). It’s a great place for a speakeasy too: dark and secret inside, like Al Capone’s vault, but cozier. I had to laugh at the guy when he said “I think I can arrange something for you,” as if he was pulling some strings and painstakingly setting us up, because half the tables were empty. He seated us next to the bizarre mural of a grown man making out with an infant. It’s totally gross, and this is coming from the guy who loves Damien Hirst. I know there’s a Michael Jackson joke in there somewhere, but I’m too lazy to figure it out so until then let’s all agree that Michael Jackson is a terrible child molester who loves sex with children, just like the guy in Knee High’s weird mural.*
The menu is cute and makes all kinds of antiquated 1920’s references to “Dames”, “Revenuers,” and “Suffragettes.” There’s an extensive cocktail menu, but the list of food items is brief. That’s okay with me; after all, you go to a speakeasy to drink and associate with flappers, jazzmen, aviatrices, and negroes, not to eat. But I was hungry after sitting on a hard bleacher for 3 hours watching roller derby girls, so we got some victuals.
The Chicago “style” Dog ($5) was as inappropriate as the quotation marks in its name (Note: I’m reproducing the typography directly from the menu here, lower case “s” and quotation marked “style” and all). A kosher beef frank was topped with relish, cucumber slices, and pickled peppers on a poppy seed bun. The flavor combination seemed unlikely to me, yet it worked. The relish was sweet. The peppers were tangy and spicy. The cucumbers were cool and fresh. The bun was as soft as gauze. The Chicago “style” Dog was really tasty and should be renamed the Chicago “awesome” Dog. It’s also the perfect thing to slow down rapidly approaching drunkenness.
An order of fries was also $5, but they weren’t as good as the “style” Dog. They were thick- cut steak fries. The coating wasn’t very crisp, and the insides were a little mealy. Plus you didn’t get very many of them. I’ve definitely had better fries, but at least they did come with an interesting spiced ketchup.
Roasted cauliflower ($5) also wasn’t that great. I like my roasted veggies with a little char on them, and while the cauliflower florets were a nice deep brown on top, they were mostly just pale and soggy underneath. They were coated with an anchovy butter that had a confident anchovy flavor. Unfortunately the butter wasn’t melted completely in many places, so I kept biting into soft pockets of cool, fishy butter. It seemed like they didn’t cook it all the way through.
Luckily, Knee High made up for the cauliflower with the asparagus Caesar salad ($6). In a cool twist on the traditional Caesar salad, they replaced lettuce with asparagus. I fucking LOVED this. The asparagus was lightly steamed so that it was tender but still a little crisp, and was coated with Caesar dressing. I’ve been to restaurants that serve pussy Caesar dressings with little garlic and no anchovy. These kinds of restaurants are usually catering to people on dates, who don’t want to have to kiss each other smelling like garlic and anchovies (though I call bullshit on that because the smell of garlic on a chick’s breath is TOTALLY HOT). Knee High’s Caesar dressing was nothing like those weak Caesar dressings: it was creamy, subversively perfumed with garlic and heavily muscled with LOTS of anchovy paste. Intense. Very nice, and it just underscores the fact that speakeasies like Knee High aren’t fucking around.
Perhaps best of all, Knee High serves ABSINTHE. While I was disappointed that they didn’t offer bathtub gin and watered down Canadian whisky like speakeasies of old, absinthe was a great choice. I ordered a glass of Lucid. For $9 you get a pretty big shot of it in a highball glass, plus an absinthe spoon, a sugar cube, and a small pitcher of ice water. The waitress offered to ignite the sugar cube for me with a match, but I declined because only philistines and Czechs do that. Lucid is a fine absinthe, though maybe with a rounder, softer, less herbal flavor than some other vintages I’ve tried. Still, it was a delightful postprandial digestif, and the romance and forbidden authenticity of the drink was perfectly suited to the ambiance.
I must at this point apologize to Knee High for making fun of the fact that it was empty when we walked in. We must have beaten the rush because at some point while we were eating, the place completely filled up! Granted, it’s not that difficult to pack the place, but still. In the private room behind us was a group of Algonquin Round Table motherfuckers, dressed to the nines and shooting rapid- fire quips at one another with the precision of Kaiser Bill’s own hunnish snipers. I wish I could say our table was enjoying such witty repartee, but sadly our talk of overly enthusiastic nipple rubs and awkwardly thumped vulvas lacked the same sparkle.
Knee High is fucking awesome. What a great idea. While the food is hit or miss, the drinks are stiff and the ambiance can fucking NOT be beat. Besides, you’re there to drink. It’s a great facsimile of a Depression- Era speakeasy. They’ve got the economic downturn nailed, after all.
Rating: 6 WPA writers out of 10
*My lawyer sez: “Michael Jackson is an upstanding citizen and is not, in fact, a molester of children or anything else other than good taste.”