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Shitshows: Sweetiepie

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[Eliot Shepard]

Sweetiepie is the one with the birdcage. Borne of owner Julie Janklow's observation of "the lack of a magical space in my neighborhood" and introduced to the world in 2008 as "a place for kids to take their parents to dinner", this coffee shop on Greenwich Avenue rides a line between vulgarity and camp. Also, creepiness.

But for those of us just outside of its target market of Gwynneth Paltrow, Sailor Moon fans, and the aforementioned children looking to treat their folks to Grilled Wild Alaskan Salmon at twenty-five dollars -- is it a shitshow? Let's visit.

Space: Tough one! A tea party at grandma's house in Palm Springs, maybe. This grandma has mirrored ceilings, fuchsia banquettes, a healthy tequila library and many, many lollipops on hand, if we're going with that analogy. The rear dining room has a wraparound mural featuring impressionistic images of cakes, ponies, Imperial Stormtroopers, that kind of stuff. There's really something for everyone!

Crowd/Aroma: Upon our arrival at 12:30 PM on a Friday, spotted a birthday party with three generations of revelers in the birdcage and a huddle of gangly young waiters and busboys resembling a Jonas Brothers tribute band in the back. The place reeked of turpentine. We asked our waiter, a polite, timid young man if they'd been painting. "Yes, I think so, in the back. Can you smell it?" No way, just a lucky guess! According to Sweetiepie Jonas, there were two more birthday parties of 20 scheduled for later in the day, but during our hour stay, only three more tables filled ? one couple of Japanese tourists, a man in a suit with his elderly father, and another three-generation gathering with the promise of candles.

Food: For a hollowed-out tomato with a ball of tuna salad inside, the Tunamato ($12) was just fine. And the tater tots ($6) were just like mom used to make ?crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and not a hint of freezer burn from the bag they came from. The chicken schnitzel ($20), however, was a miss. A lone pounded breast, cut into triangles and served with a wine sauce and lemon, the dish exuded an Eastern European austerity that did not match the decor. And it didn't taste very good. And it was too expensive. The candied bacon ($6) was a man-on-pig crime, syrupy and sprinkled with cinammon. For dessert, we had the trio of small ice cream cones, most notable for their presentation ? in a tea cup filled with shaved lettuce. Downright weird.

Service: Sweetiepie Jonas was, as mentioned, polite and timid. He forgot to leave a pen with the credit card bill, but we tipped him anyway. The busboys collected bread plates like there were only two in the house, but we forgave them, too. What was unforgivable is that Sweetiepie's sandwiches (burgers, BLTs, more!) live on a "bar menu" that is only revealed to customers who sit at the bar. Our waiter explained that this was house policy, instituted that very morning. Nevermind that it was the lunch hour, or that there was no one behind the bar, or that there are jars of gumballs on the shelves. At its core, Sweetiepie is a glorified diner, not a night club, and the sandwiches need to be out in the open, where we can see them.

Miscellany: The restroom features a high powered Dyson hand-dryer, a bona-fide thrill for gadget and dry-hands fans alike.

The verdict: Much like owner Julie Janklow telling her son "I love you, you're perfect, I want you to be gay and live with me forever and ever," Sweetiepie is either a monument to a particular feminine ideal, or just people from Los Angeles being weird. What remains is a place for kids and their grandparents to enjoy a nice Tunamato and some ice cream in lettuce. It will polarize, it will inspire chills of both delight and disgust. But to call it a shitshow wouldn't be right. Something definitely smells here, but there are kids in that birdcage.
— Josh Albertson & Eliot Shepard