Yes, a Bikini Car Wash—at Curly's Barbecue—Equals Insanity
August 14, 2012
They are an anachronism: A father-and-son team, rising at obscene hours to fire up a grill in a concrete corner of a small parking lot before most have hit the snooze button.
But before Curly’s Barbecue (394-7274) could become a community institution—and the smokey barbecue could become the official smell of the block—Curly Kocek and his son Haigo had to help bury two anachronisms that haunted the former Dairy Queen property: pay phones and Seaside sidewalk prostitutes.
Haigo, Curly’s co-manager (above), explains.
“Pimps and prostitutes would use the pay phones to take and make calls,” he says. “We told the phone company it wasn’t good for business. Asked them to tear it out.”
When the company said they had a long contract to keep it, Haigo said they hadn’t signed anything after acquiring the iconic DQ. When the company refused to remove it, the Koceks tied the phone to their truck and yanked it from the wall. When the company re-installed the phone a few weeks later, they promptly pulled it off again.
Yes, these two are old school. Their menu—with the exception of the sensational slaw and other sides—is pure grilled meat, after all. Curly’s been grilling professionally for more than 40 years. The two are unafraid to fire up an argument in front of a longtime customer—OK, I kinda started it, but they still chew one another’s rump roast at the drop of the right comment (and crack each other up with too). The old man’s not afraid to call a comely customer his “girlfriend,” which isn’t often welcome, but he’s also the type to give some broke college kids free baklava in the style of his homeland. (The group—there during a break from rehearsal—named their next CD after the dessert.+)
Also old-school: a bikini car wash. Fortunately what they’re planning for this Sunday’s bikini car wash isn’t what some feared. When a smiley Curly says, “Me in a bikini!” with an accent from his native Valencia, Italy, he’s only joking.
Haigo says a couple things inspired Sunday’s noon-4pm afternoon event and its $2 Bud and Bud Light, $5 pulled pork/chicken/tri-tip sandwiches, DJ, hot-dog-eating contest and $15-$20 car washes.
One: A friend of his who does promotions at local events said it would be a way to drum up a little dough for her and her friends, a little support for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and a little attention for the family-owned joint. (It also feels somewhat refreshing—as Haigo and his team acknowledge, no one’s doing anything adventurous or exciting like that around here—and a little exploitative/controversial too.++)
Curly’s does a decent catering business—including a tasty garlic bread-pasta puttanesca-quarter chicken plate for my colleagues and me at $10 a head the other day—and some sit down, but Haigo estimates more than two-thirds of traffic is take-out. From my seat across the parking lot at the neighboring Weekly building, that sounds about right.
“People ask me why the place looks empty,” he says. “Seventy percent of the business is to-go, probably because nobody wants to eat barbecue in public, getting it all over their face and hands. But I’d like more people to figure out we’re here.”
The big sellers from the chalkboard menu are the lean tri-tip sandwich ($7.09, above) and pork spare ribs ($14.92/half rack; $24.24/full). Dinners with ribs, hot links, tri-tip, chicken or chopped pork plus a side and a piece of garlic bread are $11.67.
My go-to is the pulled pork sandwich with plenty of tangy-not-sweet homemade sauce ($7.09), but you gotta ask for coleslaw on the sandwich too—the crisp, zippy, lightly dressed slaw is another signature.
Haigo adds his friends have told him a party like this is a brave undertaking, with the promotions pal predicting his arrest, and others saying, “You don’t know what you’re getting into.”
But neither did the pay phone company.
~~~ +You learn these things when your office neighbors a barbecue joint, and your bank of windows overlooks it. You also learn hookers once offered Higo services for sandwiches (he declined). And you see the power of the curling Curly smoke: One day a dieting intern sat down at her desk announcing her regimen was over (!) thanks to a dream she had about Curly’s ribs, which won the Santa Cruz BBQ Rib Cook-off in 2010. When I looked up just before 11am, when Curly’s opens, her chair, already empty, was still spinning.
++A local food blogger wrote that the event was “in poor taste.” I turned to one of my favorite colleagues, Sara Rubin, for further comment, because she’s the former co-founder and editor of The Lady Finger blog, which riffed on all sorts of women's issues like identity and inequality, and the most articulate feminist I know. As I might’ve expected, she had a very nuanced and well-reasoned response.
“Using scantily-clad women as a marketing scheme is demeaning—it transforms the female body into an object—and it’s an indication that we treat women’s body parts as commodities…but we do it to men’s bodies too. Firefighters do calendars and things like this.” With the caveat, she added, that how we display men's and women's bodies aren't really parallels, considering the social norms around how we treat female bodies.
She added this latter point when asked if it mattered that the girls, and not Haigo or Curly (who aren’t the most sensitive men of all time, and make no claims to be) came up with the idea: “It might make the difference if they were getting half-naked for themselves. I don’t a priori disagree with men or women choosing to market their own bodies, for their own benefit. But to sexualize barbecue seems unsavory at best.”