I miss Chetti’s Cow and Clam Tavern. That old dingy, beer-soaked place was always a great time and the usual ending for me and my buddies when we hit Shockoe Bottom back in the 1990s.
Probably what I miss more is that time in my life, but a recent meal with a group of friends at the restaurant that occupies the old Chetti’s jogged my memory.
Lu Lu’s opened at 21 North 17th Street in November 2007 in the old Chetti’s. It was opened by Millie’s co-owner Paul Keevil and longtime chef Steve Jurina it claims to serve “Southern gourmet comfort food at a reasonable prices.”
After my great meal (pan-fried cornmeal crusted Carolina trout with dirty rice and tasso ham gravy), I can’t argue.
Chetti’s Cow and Clam Tavern closed its doors for good September 30, 2000, after 12 years in the business. The walls were exposed brick. The decor was stickers and fliers on the wall and other random “artwork.” It usually smelled like seafood and stale beer (which is good, especially after midnight). I can’t recall ever beginning a night there. Heck, I can’t recall that I ever ate a meal there completely sober. At least not on purpose.
There were many other places in Shockoe Bottom at that time that we loved: Awful Arthur’s, Castle Thunder, Good Fellas, Calipso, The Floodzone, Sunset Grill, Rock Bottom Pizza, etc. We did our partying at other places and always planned to meet at Chetti’s when we were done.
We didn’t go there for the food, but it was a nice bonus. The drivers needed to sober up or figure out if we needed cabs and the drunks needed a Moister-Oyster shooter or something worse to finish them off. Plus, we’d usually cave in to whatever fried, greasy, delicious, hang-over preventing items Ray Chetti and his staff could sell us.
When I first sat in Lu Lu’s, it hadn’t occurred to me that we were in the old Chetti’s. The decor in Lu Lu’s is nice and artistic. There are new windows and they are clean. The exposed brick walls are a very light shade of yellow. Nice local artwork, framed and well-lit. There is open space where a brick dividing wall used to be and the place didn’t have a smell.
After about five minutes, my internal GPS went off and I stepped back about 15 years into the mid-90s again. Doh! Of all my alcohol-enhanced fuzzy nights that ended there, there are great memories:
- My boy Rusty openly and brashly stealing many bottles of Grolsh beer from Ray’s personal refrigerator over the course of an hour, getting him madder than the steamed oysters on the half shell.
- My boy Woody and I talking with the pot-bellied bouncer every night. We called him “Sweet Pea” — after the boxer Oliver “Sweet Pea” Whitaker. We loved that bouncer.
- I also remember the night he chased Woody all the way up Walnut Alley after he skipped out on a bill. It was the slowest most hilarious “footrace” since the famous Kozo-Woody race in our college days.
- Woody’s infatuation with the blonde waitress that worked there. She never listened to him much, and didn’t even less after the incident with the unpaid bill.
- My boy Tom systematically destroying people while playing quarters when the waitstaff wasn’t looking.
- My boy Rausch and his fabulous girlfriend/wife play fighting over who drank more. Come to think of it, that happened more than once…and there were other relationships built/lost in that old place.
The bars and restaurants of our youth may be gone, but the memories last. Uh, at least as much as the alcohol will allow.