Monday, July 21, 2008

Mango Mike's Article in Alexandria Times

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Wouldn't Gilligan's life have been unfathomably better if every Thursday night was Latino night at the lagoon? A little salsa, a few Coronas, a custom-made mojito . . . Maybe sleeping night after night next to the Skipper would have been a little easier knowing Thursday was just around the corner. It's too bad for Gilligan, though, that life for him was just TV, and the beach and deck at Duke Street’s Mango Mike's with its Island cocktails, steel drums, towering palms and Latin DJ with dancing Thursday nights after 10 p.m. were forever out of reach.

For the rest of us, though, Mango Mike's is reassuringly present. Its tiki-head cocktail cups and lush tropical foliage (trucked up from Florida every year and planted over the course of a couple days by the restaurant staff) remind diners of someplace bluer, warmer and friendlier.

Kids love the vibe of the place and the toys the hosts keep stowed behind their counter. Older folks love the menu and the Sunday brunch. Although the bar has decidedly grownup feel, the main thrust of Mango Mike's is easy fun. The fun is constructed, and Mike Anderson works hard to make sure that Mango Mikes doesn't just feel good, but that it feels island good.

"We had to Gilligan it up," Anderson said, describing the debate about how to make the drink menu more Mango Mike's. It turns out that it is a great deal of work to serve a drink in an actual coconut shell and is a process that involves power tools and ingenuity.

Like planting the deck to feel like a beach, which takes tens of thousands of dollars and dedicated teamwork, the whole of Mango Mike's easy feel is planned and articulated. "We see a whole cross-section of the Alexandria population," said Anderson, who has owned and operated restaurants in Alexandria's West End for more than 20 years. For him, things seem to come full-circle naturally.

In 1979, he opened Shooter McGee's with a partner. Anderson left the partnership to own and operate a number of Alexandria restaurants, including Easport Raw Bar, Radio Free Italy and Ramparts. Recently he sold Ramparts to his original partner from Shooter McGee's.

All of Anderson's restaurants have played iconic roles in the life of our community. They are not high-end dining, per se, but are places where people gather in groups. Extended families and communities form around restaurants like Mango Mike's and Ramparts, and every person, regardless of age, fits in.

Some of this populist passion comes across in Anderson's vocal support of the West End of Alexandria. "I love the West End," he said. "I live here. I work here. The people are wonderful, and the parking! Mango's has the best parking situation!"

What he means, and what is translated in Mango Mike's menu and décor, is that the restaurant is accessible. It is easy to reach, it is easy to park, the food is uncomplicated and attractive (especially the Bermuda Bread Pudding with rum sauce, available at brunch, which is, honestly, a gift from the island gods) and the emphasis is on comfort, palm trees and island laissez-faire.

Anderson and his staff, many of whom have been with him for years and whose personalities give shape and depth to the restaurants they work in, are working to reach out to a new community.

Lease negotiations are in progress to open a barbeque restaurant on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray. "We're excited about the community there," Anderson explained, "It is a community loyal to its businesses, but first you have to earn its respect. We look forward to that."

The barbeque restaurant is an outgrowth of Bubba Mike, a BBQ catering operation run out of the Mango Mike's kitchen. It too is a circular story, worthy of a Sherlock in Bermuda shorts, but solved, ultimately, through the tenacity of the Alexandria police.

The Mango Mike's BBQ smoker, a huge thing on wheels, was stolen. Lost notices for the "beloved smoker" were posted and a five hundred dollar reward was posted for information leading to its return. A tip led to the smoker’s returned and a reward for the tipster. "It's hard to put the story in a nutshell," Anderson said, "but the tipster was the thief."

An elected official from a neighboring state, the thief had stolen the smoker for the season, rented it out and returned it for the reward. "We got the money back, but it wouldn't have happened without the Alexandria Police Department."


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