I was a bit early.
Not by a lot: 15 minutes maybe.
I had given myself time for an errand, take some hiking boots back at REI, but the transaction was over in seconds.
Now I was driving east on Golf Road Thursday, heading to Evanston to meet my youngest son, to drive him to an appointment, then meet my wife for dinner. I was supposed to pick him up at 4 p.m..
He wouldn't like my being early; my sons, sticklers for, well, everything. I knew that.
And I understood it, sort of. Hard enough to have parents at all, when you're 18 and at college, never mind them showing up when they're not supposed to be there.
So I was thinking of what I could do to kill time. Not enough time to pop into Amaranth Books on Davis. Love that place. By the time I got down there I'd need to turn around and leave. Can't be late either.
I could just sit in front of his dorm, answering e-mails.
The sun was setting, nearly the Golden Hour, as it's called.
I noticed this little restaurant.
I almost called the Charcoal Oven "iconic", but it's not. It's obscure. Except for passing it a thousand times over the past 30 years — my in-laws, may they rest in peace, lived a block away, on Lowell—I never heard or read about it. Nobody I know has ever gone there. When I pass it at night, it's open but empty, sitting by itself on the block. Something of a mystery really.
Impulsively, I made a right on Lowell, glanced at my in-law's old house, cut through the alley behind the synagogue, and parked the car. On foot, I approached the restaurant.
My wife and I ate there exactly once. Being a block from her mother's house, it's not the location we'd seek out for dinner—not when a good free dinner served with love was a few yards away. But circumstances were such that we had dinner there, maybe 25 years ago.
Very nice, what I remember. An apricot sour—it was that long ago, back when there were cocktails. Steak, probably. The owner had tomatoes scattered across the bar—from his garden, and gave us a brown bag of tomatoes when we left. Friendly. A pleasant meal. But we still never went back.
Someone must go. The place has a web site, and is open for dinner every night. Its history traces back 90 years, when it was a speakeasy called The Oasis. The sign seems to be a product of the early 1960s.
You have to love that sign. A masterpiece of mid-century American graphics. It building wasn't always orange, but the orange shows off the sign to best effect, as does the mural painted on the side.
The parking lot is always empty. But it still is in business. And strangers live in her parents' house on Lowell. So my wife and I will have to pop in for dinner some time soon. A building that quirky and, yes, beautiful should be supported.
Snapping a few photos took three or four minutes. Soon I was parked outside my son's dorm in Evanston. I puttered around with email for a minute or two.
"I'm out front," I reluctantly messaged him, at 3:47.
"Bit early," he replied.