At Mo's Place in Playa Del Rey, the television pageantry of Monday Night Football is no match for the debauched live-action carnival Mo concocts.
When you first walk in, you see a typical sports bar. Faded pennants and posters plaster every speck of the interior not occupied by blinking screens. An open kitchen hugs one wall, and the bar is tucked into a crevice facing the front door. As a crowd gathers, Mo himself makes the rounds, a slight, stooped, long-armed man with a damp-looking cascade of gray curls rolling down the back of his neck.
The night starts innocently enough. Michael Vick chews up the Redskins and a few pitchers of beer suspiciously spring leaks. We order food.
The fried fish sandwich ($8.95) is barge-sized -- a fluffy white roll crowned with a puffy slab of battered fish, the outside golden and curdled, the inside flaky and alabaster-white. Although tasty, the sandwich is dry; we want a sauce, something creamy -- beyond the faint slick of mayonnaise soaking into one of the roll halves -- to offset the tangle of crunch and crumbly bread. The accompanying salad is what we expect: droopy wafers of radicchio, lettuce bits, shredded carrots, and ice-cold tomato wedges with a cup of cloudy Italian dressing on the side.
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A dining companion's N.Y. strip steak sandwich ($12.95) is cooked perfectly medium-rare, a grid of dark grill-marks etched into the top. Invoking the universally accepted "friend tax," we snatch a few hot, pasty fries. We play drums with our new fries. We eat them. Servers pass out pink tickets, saying something about a raffle. Barely hearing them, we think about driving home soon. We fail to notice that Mo has left the building.
We are fine with this -- classic bar eats, chilly domestics, and a lopsided football game -- but Mo has other plans. As he does each Monday night, he reappears minutes after the game ends, in a new costume, ready to preside over the raffle. Table-shaking bass announces his presence and he dances in through the front door, wearing a bow-tie, red suspenders, and lopsided gray wig. Go Mo, go Mo, people sing as he takes a spin through the room. An assistant fastens a headset microphone around his face.
Mo is no longer Mo, we are told, but Moville Redencracker, sleazy kin to Orville Redenbacher, the popcorn tycoon. In between crude jokes, Redencracker plucks ticket stubs out of a huge plastic bowl and bestows gifts upon the winners. Most patrons have their tickets carefully arranged in numerical order as they listen for the numbers. The system is entirely haphazard and potentially unfair. Some patrons have dozens and dozens of tickets; others have a handful. No one complains.
"Only at Mo's," a big guy hollers, standing up, arms outstretched, ready to accept a gift. He hasn't gotten his yet, but when he does, it is a toaster oven, two bags of popcorn, a coupon good for a shot of Jagermeister, and a porno DVD. "It's too much, Mo," he shrieks, now waving both hands at Mo as if to push away what is being offered, simultaneously revolted and entranced. But he takes his booty anyway, and shrieks again. His girlfriend stares at him as if snakes are crawling out of his ears. Go Mo, someone starts chanting, and the bar joins in. Go Mo, go Mo. Mo gyrates like a wind-up toy, and even Redskins fans feel like winners.