Remembering All-V's All Variety and the small-town feel of a strip mall in the big city
I used to have this recurring dream where I was walking along a strip mall in my grandparents' neighborhood of Mayfair/Hale. I was always heading to La Bola, a Mexican restaurant we used to go to when I was a kid. I would walk up to the door in broad daylight, pull on its oversized wrought-iron handle, and look into the dark and dank bar room beyond. But that was as far as I got -- I would always wake up before I could really see what the interior looked like.
About a decade ago, I made my roommate go with me to this strip mall to see if La Bola was still there and if it looked like that dream I couldn't seem to finish. It didn't: La Bola was gone, replaced by an Italian restaurant. I opened the door and there was no bar room, no mysterious dim and cool space to step into -- just a regular restaurant.
I was in that same neighborhood again yesterday, after I heard that All-V's All Variety had closed after almost half a century on East Eighth Avenue. As with La Bola, I wanted to go inside the sub shop one last time, but no such luck. It was done.
La Bola was replaced by many things over the years; the Jersey Street Bar & Grill is the location's current occupant. The shoppette housing the restaurant remains unchanged from the early 2000s, when I visited it last, both in my dreams and in my waking life. I'm pretty sure the strip mall at Ninth and Jersey hasn't changed much at all since it was built several decades ago.
All-V's, too, looked the same -- in that strange way a business often looks when it closes suddenly. It was like a still-life of my last visit to All-V's for a sandwich -- which was probably in the early '90s. Short, country-kitsch curtains bordered the top and bottom of the long front window, and strangely, a copy of Westword still sat on a table, as if someone had been reading it while getting down on one last All-V's classic hot or cold sub.
I remember strolling to this simple sub shop when I was in seventh and eighth grades, walking the few blocks from my Catholic school just down the way on Elm Street. It wasn't a regular hangout, by any means, but I recall feeling very grown up going to a place like All-V's without adult supervision but instead with my friend Betsy, who to me was extra lucky because her parents both worked and she had free rein of her after-school time.
(I had a stay-at-home dad, which sucked any life and chance out of being able to wander around alone not doing homework after school -- minus the beautiful caveat that was being at someone else's house. My father also did my homework with me in a way that felt like extra school, complete with a chalkboard in our kitchen for math problems.)