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Hi, 2021! Please Don't Suck 

Let's (cautiously) let the healing begin

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I've seen plenty of new years come and go, and I think I'm like most people when it comes to approaching a new spin around the sun. I'll make some goals, select some habits I'd like to improve and have a good month of self-improvement ... before hopping right back into my comfy traditions of too much fried food and not enough exercise.

After the barrage of soul-crushing defeat that 2020 flung at us, however, I can't remember a time when I've felt so motivated to be a force for good in the new year. Don't get me wrong, things are still bad. Plague? Check. Racial injustice? Check. Government indifference? Check. But after the psychological, emotional and physical damage that has been dealt to everyone, 2021 seems bedazzled with possibilities.

Before setting those lofty goals for self-improvement and social responsibility, however, don't forget to take some time to heal. Right now, we're all a bit raw and scraggly, and it's not going to do any good to tear into 2021 half-cocked. Now is the time to think about all those little things you sacrificed in 2020—dining out with friends, reading books in coffee shops, drinking cocktails at your favorite bar or club, just being able to physically interact with whatever community was your own—and visualize doing those things again. We're still in the shit, but there is just enough light at the end of the tunnel to start planning your escape.

My eventual improvement plan includes taking my wife out for some fine-dining debauchery. We've set aside some cash and plan on blowing it on the chef's tasting menu places like Mint Sushi (mintsushiutah.com) and the cioppino Toscano at Valter's Osteria (valtersosteria.com). Hell, we might even get one of those tomahawk steaks from La Trattoria Di Francesco (latrattoriadifrancesco.com). We don't typically go for the expensive stuff, but once we can have a date night or two that aren't spiked with the looming threat of COVID-19, we're not going to miss an opportunity to indulge just a tad.

I'm also in dire need of resocialization; I'll take this opportunity to apologize to every grocery store clerk that got some mumbled, dead-eyed response from me when they asked if I wanted paper or plastic. To that end, I'm planning on spending more time practicing my pinball skills or playing through Metal Slug 3 at Quarters Arcade Bar (quartersslc.com). They've also been great at hosting events that cater to my geeky nature, so I'm planning on spending a bit more leisure time within this neon-drenched local haunt.

The same goes from the coffee shops that have hosted numerous lunch breaks with a book—I know the downtown location of Publik (publikcoffee.com) has closed due to the pandemic, but I desperately hope it reopens. Their seasonal drinks are always on point, and their ample seating meant I could find a spot to sit no matter how busy it was. I also haven't spent enough time at Watchtower (watchtowerslc.com) since they moved to their new Main Street location, and I plan on remedying that this year.

Since I can't help but think about summer in the middle of winter, I'm hoping that come summertime I'll be able to enjoy some downtown nightlife at Gracie's Pub (graciesslc.com); their rooftop patio is an excellent place to ruminate on the metropolitan social scene over a plate of bacon jalapeño poppers and a Kentucky mule. It also happens to be within walking distance of Monkeywrench (instagram.com/monkeywrench_slc), which is a great chaser to a platter of pub food.

Of course, a new year on the local food beat means checking out the new and notable places along the Wasatch Front and beyond—and God willing, most of them will make it through the pandemic in one piece. I'm particularly looking forward to checking out Bricks Corner (brickscornerslc.com) for Detroit style pan pizza, a thick-crusted variation on the world's most perfect food that I have yet to experience. Let's not forget the grand reopening of The Cotton Bottom (thecottonbottom.com)—it's been far too long since I've had a good garlic burger, and I'm intrigued to see how the new management handles this local favorite. And I have yet to check out The Captain's Boil (thecaptainsboil.com), O Crab Cajun Seafood (ocrabcajun.com) and Hook and Reel (hookreel.com) for some hot, steamy crab boil action.

While I'm on the subject of Utah's current and future restaurant scene, here's hoping that some of the people behind the great restaurants forced to close this year will come back swinging. They got a raw deal, and it was gut-wrenching to see places like Pallet, Cannella's, Barrio and over 400 others forced to throw in the towel because we couldn't get our shit together. There will always be a scar, and 2021 may end up being a total fluke, but I hope that we as individual and communal lovers of our hospitality industry can let the healing begin sooner rather than later.

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