A Night Out

On one glorious Sunday morning, three intrepid non-believers asked: What could be a better way to chase away that unclean
By Anthony S. A. freinberg, Lauren E. Baer, and Robbie J. Fenster

On one glorious Sunday morning, three intrepid non-believers asked: What could be a better way to chase away that unclean feeling after a night of sin and debauchery than to immerse ourselves in the glory of gospel music? And so we set out to see the light, venturing into new territory, looking for some down-home food and inspiring singing, rather like one would find in a rousing scene from Sister Act.

People who want to chase away those hangover blues with a hymn or two or to venture into new realms of spirituality should go see the Kuumba singers, because you can’t get no satisfaction at the House of Blues.

Despite promises of lifting its patrons a little closer to heaven, the House of Blues is little more than an overpriced tourist trap. Seated at long, cramped tables next to their 50 closest friends, diners will actually get a taste of some real gospel music—but as soon as the first “Hallelujah” comes out of the performers’ mouths, they are marching out, clapping and stomping away with your money.

The problems ahead should be apparent before even entering the building. Employees immediately direct suckers up a flight of dark, dingy, dilapidated stairs to the upstairs dining room. Bursting with musical kitsch, the decor includes a picture of a smiling monk sporting a large afro. He looks down benignly on the hungry gospel-seekers who are seated at long tables covered with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Every last square inch of the walls is covered with assorted bric-a-brac that might look fitting at a tired T.G.I. Friday’s, if only it were cleaned better.

After managing to get seated, the next challenge is sniffing out some food. Alas, the line continues forever and the brief glimpses of the serving stations suggest that not much will be left upon reaching the head of the line. But after praying to the Lord for sustenance, He provides—or so it seems. A ministering angel appears from the back of the dining hall and directs hungry patrons downstairs to a second buffet line, where, apparently, they can find the food they seek. Gospel brunchers, beware—He led us into temptation. For the first floor offers little more than some congealed pasta salad and cold, leathery leftover sausage scrags. By the time one repents and returns upstairs, the best food has already been picked over by the hungry hordes, and fresh batches are distinctly slow in arriving.

Alas, the food is no better than the service. Customers seeking to experience Southern comfort food may devour tasty collard greens whose bitter aftertaste sadly recalls the disappointments of the night before. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. The bread pudding is certainly creamy—but should bread pudding really be creamy? Tepid Eggs Florentine fester atop an extinguished flame, providing a daunting challenge to those who may still feel queasy. And, at last reckoning, it did appear that Florence was in Italy. The appearance of Eggs Florentine at the buffet can thus only be explained by the fact that they are cheap to produce and will fill up hungry, if gullible, patrons. These delights may be washed down with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Or, at least, the six drops of orange juice that were able to squeeze into a small glass filled to the brim with enough ice to sink the Titanic.

And then comes Rufus. Glowing like a green beacon of love (or perhaps radiation), he flows into the dining room with a rousing version of the gospel favorite, “This Little Light of Mine.” Unfortunately, trouble again awaits unwary diners. Eye contact with the purring Rufus will lead inevitably to his cramming a microphone in their faces. Speaking is enough of a challenge on a Sunday morning; an improvisational jazz solo is really beyond the pale.

After introducing himself, Rufus informs his audience that he is going to teach them how to receive the gospel choir that is about to emerge. He instructs his flock on when to cry out, “Glory!” and when they should opt for “Hallelujah!” But, just as the congregation is just beginning to get warmed up, poor Rufus seems to lose his train of thought. He never allows them the opportunity to fully demonstrate their skills. Instead, would-be parishioners are teased with minimal audience participation, which is soon abandoned in favor of the main attraction—the gospel choir.

Out comes a group of singers who have been plucked by talent agents from their day jobs modeling for the “Before” pictures on Jenny Craig commercials. Apparently the group used to have 12 members, but cannibalism has now reduced their number to a hefty seven. When they belt out glory to the Lord, the room quite literally shakes from their force. Their harmonies are passable, their presence quite unforgettable.

But the largely middle-aged, touristy crowd seems immune to the gospel power of their three songs. They sit inert, chewing gum and wiping away the spittle that forms at the corner of their mouths. Those who lose interest in the show can ponder the age-old question: Is the quality of a restaurant’s food inversely proportional to the number of scrunchies sported by its clientele?

Unfortunately, the House of Blues seems to suggest that the answer is yes. The food is mediocre at best, the show is short and the service is unhelpful. The $30 brunch will leave customers with a financial headache as well as a medical one. And considering one will need to go elsewhere to find satisfying food and prolonged entertainment, the brunch at Dan Aykroyd’s substandard chain induces the blues instead of relieving them. Those who seek a hangover cure should turn to a Bloody Mary, not a bloody rip-off.