Thank you, Bisetti’s.
On the north side of Highway 66 west of Longmont on the way to Lyons, there once was a place of beauty and warmth called Praha Restaurant and Bar. The Czech and European restaurant opened in 1977 under the care of Vladimir and Jitka Smetana, emigrants of Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia. My wife and I discovered the place shortly after we returned from a two-week vacation to central Europe in 2011. We spent half of that time in the Czech Republic, filling ourselves with goulash and dumplings. When we learned that real Czech cuisine (and beer) were only a 20 minute drive from our home, our stomachs hungered with joy. Because Praha Restaurant was on the pricey side, it wasn’t as if we frequented it every week. But on some big occasions—anniversaries, Valentine’s Day—we made reservations and embedded ourselves there for the evening. Lindsey loved the duck spaetzle; I went for whatever dish had the most dumplings. We have pictures of us by the fireplace in the center of the dining room; it had a mural of King Wenceslas on it.
Praha Restaurant served its last meal on December 16, 2017. Friends of ours who used to work there broke the news to us, saying that the owners planned to lease the space to a marijuana dispensary.
A staggering blow to the common good.
A few weeks ago we learned, like most of you, that Bisetti’s Ristorante in Old Town Fort Collins was also closing its doors. Their last day of business was January 29. Bisetti’s probably didn’t carry as much emotional weight for my wife and I as Praha, but it was a close second. We went there for birthdays and date nights and, in 2016, for our first-ever celebration of Mother’s Day. Like most of you, we were stunned to silence to learn that it was going away. We tried making reservations a couple weeks before it closed but were told that it was fully booked through its closing day. My go-to dish was the manicotti. When I was at CSU, I was classmates with someone who was a server there, and she would talk about the dignity with which their in-house butter was made. Did you know that Jason Momoa, the actor who played Aquaman in Justice League, used to be a busboy there?
Now it is no more. The common good suffers another gut punch.
It’s easy in a place like Fort Collins to take some of our more celebrated restaurant establishments for granted. Bisetti’s has been here since 1979. Of course it will always be here, we said to ourselves. We expect whatever culinary idea that gets greenlit at the place by Target to come and go, but we were sure that Bisetti’s, with its dim lighting and manicotti and excellent wine selection, would endure forever. Our expectations of places like Bisetti’s to “always” be here somehow work its way into our identity as a community, and even as our identities as individuals. There’s something about my story that is defined by the meals and the memories that were created inside these places. Significant life moments happen outside our living rooms all the time; the texture of our community is enriched through these places that feel solid, that offer atmosphere and excellence.
So, then, it is strange to think how much our identity is wrapped around what and where we eat. What is it about food—good food—that binds families and communities together? What is it about a table set for a feast that brings out the best of our humanity? The intimacy of sharing a meal is a sacred thing. The Bisetti’s and the Prahas of our communities are religious in nature, and that’s why we love them so much. It’s in these places that we find rest, that our productivity is forced to idle down while we partake of elements that nourish and restore.
The passing of these communal and cultural establishments can produce three things in us, as I see it. The first is gratitude—gratitude for the amazing gifts that God gives our city for our enjoyment. The second is the possibility of forming habits where we invite others into our homes on a regular basis, because the sacredness we felt in Bisetti’s can be felt in our own dining rooms (wine or no wine). And the third is a deeper appreciation for the table we share on Sunday mornings—and a longing for the ultimate feast when all things will be made new, when the manicotti will never run out and the wine will gladden our hearts for eternity.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)