KNOXVILLE — Soccer Taco opened its first location in 2005 on Bearden Hill, on the west side of Knoxville. In August 2009 a new location opened on Market Square. Another branch of the small chain exists in Maryville. Recently the Mex/American restaurant expanded its Market Square location and opened Sotano, a basement bar directly under the restaurant.
I entered the Market Square location and the hostess on the first floor gestured to a door to my left in response to my directive query. I made my way downstairs and above the entrance to the bar written in what I thought was Spanglish was La Cuerva de Chango, which I could only assume meant the "cave of change'." I later came to find out in all of my gringohood that it means "Monkey Cave." By the way, this is a good example of how Google Translate can fail you.
It was Saturday after the UT victory over Buffalo, so some of the patrons were a few sheets to the wind. A few were trashed, some were hammered, a couple were sloshed, a pair was loaded, one guy was plastered, a young lady was smashed and one guy who seemed to have an English accent declared out loud he was "pissed." For those not familiar with British slang, that means drunk, not angry. Now don't get me wrong, the other 23 people that were at this intimate little space (which maxes out at 60) were more into the food and quite possibly sober for all I could tell.
The guy referred to above as "plastered" drunkenly yelled "Forget Florida!" on the other side of the room as they appeared on the TV screen in his line of view. He repeated his statement and another patron voiced his agreement by repeating his exclamation. Please note that I just censored his comment the way they do when Comedy Central plays a movie like "Old School" during the day. That being said, you got a monkey biting problem with that? Then go fool yourself!
I think I was specifically sensitive to the level of intoxication of each person at the bar because I was there, sober, doing my first Nightlife article without a beer in front of me. I am in the habit of breaking habits. Anytime I seem to cling on to a vice for more days than not, I take a break from it. I do have to admit though, at Sotano, the slushie-style machines filled with margaritas captivated me the entire time I watched bartender Megan pour two delicious, dripping, frosty pitchers full of them. I sat oddly wishing I could have brain freeze that only subsided when my decision making went fuzzy from the booze. That's it, it was time to eat or I wasn't going to make it through this review without a buzz.
I looked over the mini-menu of items that seemed a greatest hits of the upstairs menu and settled on the weirdest sounding one of the bunch, the Mini-Mexi Dogs. These were two mini hot dogs wrapped in bacon and quickly deep fried before being placed on bun with pico de gallo and sour cream served with a side of homemade potato chips. Sounds like a school lunch in El Paso, doesn't it? I was skeptical because I am not a fan of hot dogs, but the other bartender, Whitney, restored my confidence in my decision by telling me: "I believe in the power of bacon." She was right, the bacon was crisp and the weirdness of this dish was outweighed by the way all these elements jived in my mouth.
As more people showed up the bar started to reach capacity and the voices started overpowering the music. The bar itself runs about half the length of the room and is directly in front of you as you enter. This could create a small bottleneck if people showed up all at once. The fixtures and lighting definitely gave the room a classy, clean appearance. Few beers on tap and many options of top-shelf liquor in plain view reinforced the vibe of a place to get some cocktails rather than Jager shots and pitchers of beer.
I did make it through the night without drinking despite the fruity temptations that frequently passed by, but the best part was the place was more than tolerable for a sober person. I plan on stopping in here after a comedy show in the future for some more mini-mexi dogs and likely an entire pitcher of margaritas! Special thanks to the very hospitable GM Jaime for translating the bar name for me in my ignorance.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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