July 27 2015 03:16 PM

Sweaty costumes, celebrity chef Brian Malarkey and forced fun on a tequila train


I thought we were encouraged to wear costumes! 

It's what I want to shout at everyone, standing on the corner of B Street and Kettner, giving me the side-eye. Everybody looks great: Ladies wear fancy cocktail dresses and heels; dudes wear button-ups—fashionably untucked—with jeans (which I guess is the most you can ask from guys in San Diego). 

And here's me, wearing the scorpion jacket Ryan Gosling wears in the movie, Drive. It's a Halloween costume from two years ago, purchased during a time when I was a little more svelte, so now it hugs me like a small child who thinks the floor is made of bugs.

A week prior, I received an invite to a "Secret Dining Society" event, put on by Patrón Tequila. The details were intriguing: "[U]nder the cover of darkness," San Diego celebrity chef (and owner of my new go-to fake name if I find myself in a bind) Brian Malarkey— proprietor of restaurants Searsucker and Herringbone—would "deliver a remarkable dinner." Further details would be given out the night before said event, which would be followed by "a secret dessert and cocktail party featuring the super heroes of the secret dining society." 

I'm surprised an arm didn't emerge out of the computer and make me promise pinkie swearsies that I wouldn't tell. 

The night before the event, I received further instructions to meet at the Kettner location—in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego— and that, since this event coincided with ComicCon, "costumes are encouraged, but not necessary." 

It's at this point where I wonder if it's all worth it. Not just the event, but also the concept of fun and, ultimately, life. I think about how fun is co-opted and perverted by corporations and public relation firms into an amorphous blob of anti-fun—a variety usually found in office parties and mixers. But if you don't participate and wear the costume, you appear, at best, square, or, at worst, unfun, and God help me if I appear as unfun to a group of strangers. 

So yeah, I wear the fucking costume. Turns out: I'm the only person wearing a costume. It doesn't help that I'm the only person with no companion. Oh, and it's summer in San Diego, so I'm not only the most alone person in this growing crowd, but also the sweatiest because that jacket ain't breathable.

My phone buzzes. The group text is our first clue for the night: "A Super Man in plain clothes with a briefcase has just pulled into the station. Whisper Roca Patron' in his ear to for your next clue." We walk the couple hundred steps into the Santa Fe train station, and there's a handsome Clark Kent surrogate sitting on one of the benches. Everyone lines up to whisper the name brand into his ear. This proves to be difficult for some dudes who aren't used to whispering things into other dudes' ears. He hands us a big, cartoonish train ticket out of his briefcase. 

We all walk back to MCASD and that's pretty much the end of the super secret adventure portion of the night. They bring us into the lobby and provide cocktails, premade in little elixir bottles. They're purple. They have, like, superfruits in them. Everyone is happy that the unpredictable game portion of the evening seems to be over and now we have booze and, since we're adults, that's how we feel at ease. 

I stand in the middle of the room and chug my cocktail. I will not take my costume off. I've committed. I become super judgy of everyone not wearing a costume. One guy wears a Captain America medallion and I think, whatever. Then he takes pity on lowly, by-myself me and introduces himself as Troy Johnson. That's right—San Diego celebrity food critic and former CityBeat music editor Troy Johnson. Suddenly I want to be his best friend. This vague feeling of acceptance gives me the resolve to remove the jacket. 

We're taken out to the train tracks behind MCASD, where an old-timey Roca Patrón train car awaits us. It's at this point where I should be like, "Holy shit, a mystery dinner on a train!" but I'm just happy someone talked to me. Troy Johnson poses next to the train for a picture and lifts his shirt. Someone in his group says, "Oh, he's doing the belly thing." That guy! 

We sit at a long table in the back of the train. Our place settings are personalized margarita salt pucks, but the names are printed in Comic Sans font so: ugh. It only took 30 minutes to go from being self-conscious loser to part of the snobby foodie elite. 

Malarkey welcomes us by singing the first words of Grateful Dead's "Casey Jones": "Driving that train." He passes the mic to his bro and my BFF, Troy Johnson, who finishes: "High on cocaine." That guy! 

We're given a five-course meal. Each dish pairs with a tequila cocktail. It's all very indulgent and, I'm sure, good. I'm by far the least qualified person to know; everyone around me is a food writer or blogger, and nobody seems to finish each course. Half-full cocktails quickly fill the space around me and I want to drink them but that would certainly out me as a phony. Halfway through the dinner, they make us watch a Patrón propaganda video that instills the values of the hardworking, family-owned company. I'm drinking tequila infused with donut-flavor during this video. 

The dinner ends. The night is noticeably cooler. I put the costume on to walk back to my car. A drunk Comic-Con attendee walks alongside me. "Nice jacket," he says. 

Ryan is the author of Horror Business. Write to ryanb@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @theryanbradford


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