En vino veritas

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Cafe Europa’s outgoing owner John Rudy and former waitress and current patron Megan Westmoreland.

by Nicole Crews

 Mother: What are you up to tonight?

Me: I’m going to Wine Wednesday to swap some lies.

Mother: I thought ‘In wine there is truth — en vino veritas?

Me: Not on Wednesdays.

It’s 7:30 p.m. and the slightly long-in-the-tooth crowd (at least this week) at Greensboro’s Printworks Bistro is just beginning to melt into the groovy kitsch of lounge sounds provided by the Evan Olson and Jessica Mashburn duo AM rOdeO. I’ve just arrived with Felix, my cool cat of a friend and partner in post-work crime for the Proximity Hotel venue’s version of Wine Wednesday.

Me: There’s enough low-slung cleavage in here to keep Dr. Barber busy for the next two decades.

Felix: It’s underwire gone haywire.

Me: My kingdom for a giant hypodermic needle full of Botox.

Felix: Start at the knees. “It’s Night of the Midlife Mini-Skirt Crisis.”

Me: Yeah. Bandage skirts are supposed to show off your curves, not serve as compression garments.

Well-oiled Quaintance Weaver staffers slink by in pressed  pantsuits and perfect coifs, assuring that all goes according to plan as the evening ensues and soft-shoe versions of disco dancing commence. They’re like replicant flight attendants on the SS Utopia, choreographing the patterns of the bar, restaurant and patio and attending to every human need. As one sweeps past I can’t tell if she’s wearing panty hose or if her legs are made of plastic.

Felix: Do you think they’re anatomically correct?

Me: No. Then they would have to take bathroom breaks.

As the food retreats and the wine continues to pour, a shiver of sharks in pastel camouflage and grosgrain belts begin to make a pass around the bar. Teased blonde hair and chunky necklaces flash and bob like fishing lure and sure enough, one shark gets caught in the fishnets of a leathery lady in a sparkly caftan top and mini.

Felix: There can’t be anything left on the racks at Chico’s after she accessorized.

Me: Do you think they’re talking about the Ukraine or the feminist uprising in Hungary?

Felix: Cat videos.

We slink over to eavesdrop:

Shark: I like your boots. Very rock and roll.

Leather: I like to play dress up.

On that visual, Felix throws me a lifesaver and says, “Let’s get out of here.” We say our goodbyes to the Sixty/Forty Club and head to Wine Styles at Friendly Center for round two. There’s not a whiff of estrogen in the air as we park it and cross the lot to the mangle of manhood jostling for outdoor seating.

Felix: My gawd. Is it boys night out at Wellspring?

Me: There’s more cured sausage in here than Pepperidge Farm. Let’s go to Europa.

Founded by four-decade bar owner John Rudy — and recently sold to his protégé of 13 years, Jakub Pucilowski — Café Europa started the Wine Wednesday tradition shortly after opening next to the Cultural Arts Center in 2000. I was there on that inaugural night when the bar ran out of glasses and customers could be seen gulping from bottles in true wino fashion.

The crowd here is a generational blur, the room a home away from home for many area expats. Russians and Swedes and Argentines collide with Villebillys (what my friend David calls the refugees of neighboring small towns), downtowners and bohemians.

The veteran staff is comprised of artists, musicians, photographers, hipsters and Greens-Eurians who not only work at the restaurant — but often hang out there.

The patio is pressed in like a platter of the mussels the restaurant is famed for, and the music blaring over the speakers veers from Billie Holiday to Bobby Darin and Edith Piaf all the way to Missy Elliot and Michael Jackson. We sidestep the brick courtyard and belly up to the bar to congratulate Jakub on this passing of the guard.

Me: You’ve got a large moustache to fill in my friend.

Jakub: I think I’m up to the task.

Me: I can’t think of a better man to do it.

And it’s true. If anyone can take over Europa’s legacy of great, affordable European fare, solid cocktails, potable wines, good music, eclectic staffers and interesting clientele, it’s Jakub. He is European, after all. I don’t think they have Chico’s over there.