Last night I met up with my dear friends Candace and Lori for dinner at one of our favorite Austin restaurants, Phara’s. Phara’s is always an experience. It’s a kind of Middle Eastern theme park restaurant with good food, belly dancing, and wildly inconsistent service. But it’s still BYOB, so you can’t beat the value. The interior dining room is teensy, so most people sit outside in the massive outdoor dining area where there are always several tables with people smoking hookahs. The decor is an unassuming hodge-podge of every possible kind of patio chair and table available at Garden Ridge since 1991.
Phara, the owner, is a unique little spitfire. She has a radiant smile and when she greets you it makes you feel like you’re visiting her home. Last night, as she led us to our table, she noted that the outdoor lights might blink on and off because of some oddball little story about a breaker going out and not having time to get the City to come fix it, so I worried a bit that we might get electrocuted during dinner. Phara’s is the kind of place where if you got electrocuted during dinner, you would just shake your fried head and say, “Yeah, that just happened but it’s not altogether unexpected. Pass the hookah.”
So perhaps the blinking lights were a bit of an omen when we sat down and within seconds, a tall dude with a long black slick ponytail and an unfortunate suit approached our table and introduced himself as the magician. He did a few table-side tricks that included burning himself and then pretending he hadn’t burned himself, and attempting to set his wallet on fire but because it was so windy it failed, so he took off. I commented that he was probably going out to his car to douse his wallet in lighter fluid again, and sure enough he came back a few minutes later and lit his wallet on fire while we bit holes in our cheeks to prevent ourselves from laughing at him, because that’s just rude.
It got worse. After the belly dancer did her show, Candace warned us that the magic show would soon follow, because she’d seen it a few weeks before. She noted that the magic show was going to be a serious let down after the belly dancing and live music.
Boy, was she right.
The set-up for the stage is weird because the “stage” is really just a big raised deck, and the dining tables surround the stage, so for a magician, it makes it a little difficult to hide the trade secrets. Given the awkward set-up, it was clear from the start that the magician wasn’t cutting anyone in half that night.
When the magician put his props up on stage, I was immediately drawn to and horrified by a small pet carrier designed for a small dog. When I saw flapping wings through the little mesh window, I knew we were in trouble.
“Oh yeah, he has birds!” Candace said. “You hate birds, right?”
I really hate birds. I’m fine to see them flying around far away, but I have absolutely zero need to get in a bird’s personal space, and they have absolutely zero need to get in mine.
The magician launched into his terribly awkward show while everyone cringed and smiled the kind of smile you save for 5th grade orchestra concerts. He segued into some kind of floppy napkin trick where he waved the napkin around, and voila, a terrified white dove appeared perched on his hand. The magician raised his hand high to show off the dove, but it was quite windy out, so the dove proceeded to lean over and fall a good four feet to the ground. It just toppled off of the magician’s hand, and poof, flopped down on the ground on his sad little side. That poor bird didn’t have a chance to even flap his wings. He just free fell four feet. Plop!
I swear to God I thought the bird was dead.
I missed a little of the immediate aftermath because at that point I was laughing so hard I had to bury my head in my jacket and think super sad thoughts because I kid you not, I thought I might have a laughter-induced aneurysm. I’m a woman who LOVES to laugh but I had to really work hard at not dying, because I’ve never planned on dying in a green plastic Garden Ridge chair. By the time I could see straight again he’d somehow picked the bird up and it was moving a little, so really, the magic in that show was that the magician managed to revive a half dead bird.
Somehow, the magician kept going. I guess part of being a magician is that you can’t stop the show just because one of your props tries to die mid-routine. Despite the increasing wind (and blinking lights), he lit something else on fire and an ember the size of a half dead dove flew above the tables, narrowly escaping a table of unsuspecting Indian guys sucking on the hookah. He did a few other string tricks or something while I went back and forth forcing myself to think of sad things and taking deep breaths to stay alive.
Here’s a pic right before the big ember went on a wayward journey toward the table of Indian guys (not pictured). I love the facial expressions of everyone in the audience, including the belly dancer, because everyone looks so skeptical and unamused. They could also be looking for the nearest fire extinguisher, because can you blame them?
At long last, the worst magic show ever finally ended, and the live music and belly dancing started back up again. I wasn’t sure I could handle more, but by that time, all of the patrons at Phara’s had been granted ample time to get juiced up on their selected hand-carried bevs, including the table next to us. We noticed early on that the table next to us had a giant bottle of exotic liquor paired with a gigantic fruit tray that took up a large portion of the table. These were clearly very fun people. Several of the members of that party hopped up on stage to dance with the belly dancer, and they danced like no one was watching, so you had to appreciate that because everyone was actualy watching.
After the magic show, a rather dashing man from the table beside us walked over to our table and presented a small fruit tray fashioned out of parts of the larger tray. The plate included watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, and a few Ritz crackers, I guess for show.
“He’s like a Middle eastern Tim Arndt!” I raved, diving into the watermelon. Tim’s the kind of guy who shares birthday cake with strangers at restaurants, and we never think that’s weird at all.
It was such a lovely gesture, and so unexpected, except maybe not unexpected because my girlfriends are gorgeous and it appeared that this man had a bit of an eye on Candace. After he delivered our fruit plate, he hopped on stage and did some extremely unique dancing, very possibly with the end goal of sharing more fruit with Candace.
We sat for a while longer enjoying our free fruit, but it was so cold we were miserable so we decided to leave. As we were leaving the restaurant for a windy walk back to Candace’s house, I suddenly got completely paranoid about our fruit plate.
“He didn’t give fruit to anyone else!” I said, panicking. “What if this is some big plan to roofie us?”
On the cold walk home, Candace and Lori worked hard to convince me that the fruit was just fruit, and while I did my best to believe them, I spent the next few hours at home Googling fruit roofies until I fell asleep. By the morning I had texts from both of my friends, so luckily, we all survived.
I’m afraid to say I can’t speak for the dove.