Gatlinburg Messing Continues
It was nearing two o’clock and my stomach was protesting the lack of food. No Way Jose’s Mexican Restaurant had been nixed because I hate public bathrooms and I knew an hour after lunch I would need one. We had passed a Hard Rock Café a few blocks back and a thick burger was tantalizing to my growling tummy, so we ventured backward. Besides, it was the one place all twelve of us could agree upon. Well, eleven actually, because I didn’t give the 8-year old an option. It was food. She’d argue about whatever we selected that didn’t offer a toy with her meal.
Getting a table in a restaurant for twelve is more complicated than it is for four and we were told it would be a thirty minute wait. Normally, more than ten or fifteen minutes sitting in a lobby and I’m ready to hit the road for someplace less popular. However, the music was good and there was rock paraphernalia on the walls for the kids to wander and stare at so that they wouldn’t be asking me, “How much longer,” every two minutes, so we stayed. Of course, I kept asking the same question to the girls who just told me to grow up.
The first thing I noticed about this particular Hard Rock was that it was the smallest I had ever been in. Not that I’ve been in that many mind you, so my frame of reference is skewed. I mean, I’ve been to Universal’s Hard Rock, which holds concerts and Biloxi’s, which is a casino. Still, the one in Downtown Gatlinburg would fit in my house, I’m sure. It was small. And loud. But, it was fun, and I would soon learn that the food was great.
It was also another reminder of how small our world really is. Earlier at the Art House, we had met Louise Bales who was from Titusville, a city roughly thirty minutes north of us. As we talk with our waiter, Big Dan, I discovered that he was from Lakeland, a city a couple hours south from where we live. He had done what my father had done to our family over forty years ago. Big Dan had gone to Gatlinburg in 2007 on vacation, fell in love with the place and moved there. I can’t say that I blame him. It’s a beautiful area and the girls and I are already contemplating buying a cabin there. The Hard Rock offered him a job, so he packed his bags and followed his dreams. It’s something more people need to do - chase their dreams.
Big Dan, as he introduced himself to us as, was great at what he did. He was a thick-chested bulk with a tattooed head, and the friendliest waiter I’ve come across in quite a long time. It was obvious he loved his job and loved people. He was patient, which you have to be with our group, allowing us to ask question and change drink orders. Of course, we purchased souvenir glasses, which he said we could come back and retrieve after we enjoyed our day Downtown. That was a major selling point as none of us wanted to lug the giant Hard Rock glasses around for the next few hours.
I’m not sure why we keep purchasing souvenir glasses. They’re just going to end up in a yard sale a few years from now. Yet, we tend to buy them whenever they’re offered. We have about eleven Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane glasses from our excursions to City Walk back home. I might be able to understand a glass for each of us, but eleven! Still, when Big Dan made the suggestion we jumped at it and now own their beer glasses and a margarita glass with Hard Rock Café Gatlinburg emblazoned on it.
Throughout our meal, Big Dan kept coming back, telling us about great sights we would want to see. Like Louise, he told us about Arts and Crafts community and also about a twenty mile drive in a giant circle where the animals of the forest would come right up to your car. Furthermore, when it came time to embarrass the birthday girl, Amanda, who was with us, he made sure he had everyone in the place staring at her. There aren’t many servers such as Big Dan. He turned lunch into a great vacation experience. We were only sad that we didn’t have time to visit all of his suggestions. Next time for sure, though.
When we left the cabin that morning there were three things we all wanted to do that day. The first was visit Downtown Gatlinburg, then Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and finally the moonshine sampling at Old Smokey Moonshine. What I didn’t know was that they were all Downtown within a few blocks of each other. It was soon decided that the moonshine sampling should be done before the aquarium so that walking the giant fish tank would wear off the effects of too much sampling, which we were already planning on doing quite a bit of. You say free sample, and we hear open bar.
So we passed Ripley’s Aquarium and ventured into a few more shops before we came across a sign pointing down a side strip where we could find the elixir we desired. I thought it was funny that they were giving away samples of moonshine, because my dad used to run it, praying not to get caught. We’ve come a long way in our views and tastes. Now, to get Tennessee to sell on Sunday and it will be a true paradise.
When you turned the corner, it was as if you stepped back a hundred years into an old rustic mill town. The motif was gray wood and rocking chairs. On the right were the vats and a description of the brewing process. To the left was the gift store where you could purchase T-shirts and glasses, jackets and candles, all with the moonshine theme. Right in front was the giant square bar with people crowded around ready to sample the shine. It was loud and packed, but looked like quite a bit of fun.
Our group stuck together, each wanting to see the puckered shivers of others, and the 8-year old stood by to watch and laugh. We waited patiently for the group in front of us - who had ventured to each station to sample the moonshine again - before we squeezed our way into a six-foot section of sticky bar. The sample cups were the small, clear thimble-like communion cups many churches use for their Lord’s Supper, which seemed fitting to me because communion always looked like a bunch of people doing shots. We were each given our tease cup and Lisa, behind the bar, started filling us in on what we would be imbibing.
There were supposed to be twelve things for us to sample, but they were out three. We weren’t really concerned and just wanted Lisa to start pouring. At least, I did. The first six were flavors, such as Apple Pie, Blueberry, Strawberry, and Lemon. At 40% alcohol they went down sweet with just a slight taste to them and, to be honest, tasted quite a bit like those pre-made drinks you can buy by the half gallon in any liquor store. The strawberry reminded me of the jungle juice we used to concoct in high school with Hawaiian Punch Rum, and vodka. Not that you’re supposed to drink in high school, so kids ignore the above recipe.
The next thing we sampled was cherries soaked in moonshine. They tasted like - well, cherries. The bite happened right at front with the taste of the moonshine, but then the sweetness of the cherries took over leaving your mouth satisfied while the burn of the alcohol warmed your belly. It was a tasty surprise.
At the final two jars, half of our group bailed out. There was the original moonshine with the corn mash taste to it and the White Lightning, which had been distilled more and the corn hash taste left out. Both were 100%. The brave - or foolhardy - held their cups up and waited to scorch our throats. Teri’s lips puckered as her body shivered at the after taste. So did most of the others. It was strong, with a definite punch to it that was not meant for those who prefer mixers with their alcohol. I just held my glass up for another round.
Three of the kids, all legal age, I assure - purchased a mason jar of their favorite flavor. I preferred the Maker’s Mark back at the cabin. While the kids made their purchases and the girls browsed the gift shop, the 8-year old and I took up residence in one of the many rocking chairs that filled the courtyard and listened to a local country band. It wasn’t the country you hear on the radio today, which is more pop with a cowboy hat to me, but more of a hillbilly string sound. We sat through a portion of their slow, clapping and rocking, enjoying the music and a chance to sit.
When the browsing and sampling was exhausted, it was time to visit the fish. We crossed the street, halting traffic, browsed a few more stores and then bee lined it to the aquarium. It was 5:45 and the day had already been chock full of sights, friendly people and family memories to last a lifetime, and there was more to come. That, of course, is what Messing means. I hope you’re doing some Messing this weekend.
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