Carbonell’s was a classy, established place. Tony had worked his ass off for the past ten years, building his brand from the ground up, giving the people a little slice of five star dining for a reasonable price, and now… well, now he was losing customers to the dive bar that had opened up across the street.
“It’s not a dive bar, Tony,” Pepper rolled her eyes as she looked over the receipts that evening after closing. “Irish Rogers’ Tavern and Eatery is exactly what it says on the sign. Rhodey says that their burgers are pretty good, apparently.”
“Rhodey has been eating over there?” Tony all but yelled, angry and betrayed for what he knew were childish reasons. “That’s it. I’m sending out a staff memo tomorrow morning banning anyone from fraternising with the enemy -”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Pepper replied, not even really paying him that much attention as she tapped away at her calculator. “We’ve got completely different niches, okay? And our customers are loyal – I don’t really think we’re going to lose any to Rogers’ place.”
“If I lose a single cent,” Tony huffed, “you better tell me, okay? This is a battle, Pepper, and you need to get your war paint on.”
“Why did I take this job?” he heard her sigh as he marched from her office.
“You’re a traitor,” Tony announced as he walked into the staff room that morning. “My mother’s probably turning in her grave.”
Sat at at table, halfway through his breakfast, Rhodey just rolled his eyes. “She would not. Your Mom had more of a sense of humour than you do.”
“Twenty years,” Tony went on. “Twenty years we’ve been friends, and not once have you betrayed me. And then that dive bar -”
“It’s not a dive bar.”
“- came along and suddenly you throw our friendship away? What’s so special about that damn place?”
Rhodey sighed and placed his spoon down in his bowl. “It’s a nice place, okay? Good, family atmosphere, hearty food, and great booze. Believe it or not, after spending a full day with our shitty customers, sometimes it’s nice to actually leave this place.
“I’m not saying this place is bad, because I love it here,” he went on, holding his hands up defensively when Tony opened his mouth to ream him out. “You trusted me to manage your baby all those years ago, and I think I’ve done a good job, but I can’t eat your Mom’s meatballs every meal for the rest of my life, okay?”
“Well… I’ve been thinking about putting some new calzones one the menu,” Tony tried, and Rhodey just rolled his eyes again. Sighing heavily, he sat down at the table opposite him. “It’s really a nice place?”
“Not nice like our nice,” Rhodey replied. “It’s not fancy nice, but it’s got its charm. Seems like a personal, family place.”
“Fuck,” Tony sighed, running both hands through his hair. “Do you think we’re in trouble?”
Rhodey shrugged. “I dunno. I think we gotta wait until the opening rush calms down, see how many people actually go back for a second go.”
“Okay,” Tony nodded, because he could do that. He could probably do that. “Okay, we’ll wait a couple of weeks. So you don’t think I should go over there and talk to their owner?”
Rhodey just gave him a flat look.
He spent the rest of the day locked in his office, trying desperately to fight his urge to go over to Rogers’ place anyway and give the owner a piece of his mind. Who in their right mind set up a dive bar opposite a well established, profitable restaurant and expected to make any money?
A madman, that was who.
Unless… he was a madman with a secret weapon. Rhodey had seemed impressed by the place; maybe they were an expanding franchise, or had speciality food or ale in stock. Fuck, maybe they had a PR team that was driving people in, or -
He was going over to the bar. Fuck it – what harm could it do? He wouldn’t bitch at the owner, so he’d keep his promise to Rhodey; he’d just go in and act like a customer, scope the place out. There was no harm in that, right? Right.
Grabbing his coat, he slipped out through the delivery entrance at the back and headed up through the alley beside his restaurant to the main street they were both situated on. Glancing both ways to make sure he wasn’t about to get run over (because Pepper would never let him hear the end of it), he crossed the street and braced himself outside the door of Rogers’ place. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.
He was immediately hit by a wall of noise, of people laughing, children yelling, glasses clinking and cutlery scraping against plates. Momentarily overwhelmed, he stood stock still, staring around. There were hundreds of photos on the wall, family looking photos, as well as other tacky shit: there were hockey sticks and sports jerseys, car number plates and old records.
A huge bar spread down the left side of the room, deep mahogany in colour and with a black marble finished surface on top. They were stocked with booze up to the eyeballs, it all on show in racks behind the bar. At the other side of the room tables were set out with chairs tucked neatly under them. The empty ones, anyway, which there weren’t a whole lot of – the place was pretty much packed solid.
“Hey, buddy,” came a friendly voice from his left, and he turned in time to see a smiling man with an armful of menus coming towards him. “Can I find you a table, or is this just a flying visit to the bar?”
“Oh, I… sure. Table, yeah, uh – yeah, table,” Tony replied smoothly, smacking a palm against his forehead as soon at the guy turned away to lead him to a table.
“Okay, my name’s Sam, I’ll be your waiter today,” the guy told him as he sat down, handing him a menu. “Can I get you a drink to start you off?”
“I, um – can I get a beer?” Tony asked, because he was already here – he might as well get a little drunk before he faced Pepper and Rhodey again.
“Sure thing,” Sam nodded. “Now would that be what we have on tap, or do you wanna try one of our cask ales -?”
“Whatever’s on tap is fine, thank you,” Tony replied quickly, and Sam nodded, moving as if to disappear to get that for him. “And, actually, can you just bring me your special of the day, thanks.”
“Oh, sure, man,” Sam nodded, noting that down on a notebook he had in his apron. “We’ll get right on that for you.”
“Thank you,” Tony replied briskly, watching as Sam walked away. He placed his order on a window ledge behind the bar, through which Tony could see the chef hard at work. It… looked like he had a prosthetic arm.
Tony whipped his head around, startled, and came face to, well, stomach with the guy standing next to him. He glanced up and was momentarily taken aback, firstly by how well built the guy was, and secondly how handsome he was. Hell, Tony almost swallowed his damn tongue when he got a look at the guy’s face.
“You… know my name,” he managed to get out, watching as the guy laid a glass of beer down on a coaster for him. “How do you know my name?”
“It’s my business to know the names of my competition,” the guy replied, and actually sat down in the chair opposite Tony. “I am the owner and manager of this place, after all.”
“You’re the owner?” Tony asked, and had to physically bite his tongue to stop himself from adding, and not a model?
“I am,” the guy nodded, and then held his hand out with a kind smile. “Steve Rogers, nice to meet you.”
“Rogers, makes sense,” Tony nodded, and shook Steve’s hand. Then, rather tactlessly, he dived right in. “So, you opened a dive bar opposite my fancy restaurant and somehow you’re stealing my customers.”
Steve, to his credit, just huffed out a startled laugh. “Well, I’d like to think we’re a little more than a dive bar, but thanks for the review all the same.”
“Sorry,” Tony grimaced. “Sometimes my mouth works a little faster than my brain – my friend Pepper tells me constantly I have to work on my filter. It’s a problem, really -”
“I see,” Steve grinned, and Tony found himself charmed by the sight. “So, let me ask you a question. Are you just here for dinner, or do you have an ulterior motive?”
Tony thought about lying for a moment. It really wasn’t any of Steve’s business why he was there, after all. But then again… Steve seemed like a nice guy. Maybe they could work something out?
“My in house manager ate here the other day, gave it a rave review,” he explained, taking a sip of his beer in the process. It… was delicious. “He’s a traitor, of course, and I’ve since flayed him alive and served him as an entrée, but… I was curious, I guess.”
Steve nodded serenely, completely unphased by Tony’s dry wit. “And what do you think, Mr. Stark?”
“Tony’s fine,” he replied before he could stop himself. “And… I mean, the hockey sticks are a little tacky -”
“Hey, those are the sticks me and my buddy Bucky used in our sixth grade hockey final,” Steve replied. “We won that game.”
“- and it’s a little dark in here,” Tony continued. “I dunno, Rogers. I think you could do better.”
He half expected Steve to be a little offended, but instead he was flashed a daring smile. “There’s nothing wrong with a little competition, Tony. How about this – try the food. If you like it, we’ll call a truce, leave each other to our own business -”
“And if it’s not up to my standards?” Tony asked, leaning forwards a little in his seat, finding himself smiling.
“Then expect a flaming bag of dog shit on your doorstep tomorrow,” Steve replied with a grin of his own, gesturing for Sam to bring Tony’s food over. It was a burger. “I’m throwing the gauntlet down.”
Tony looked down at his food. He had to admit that it did look good – thick, chunky cut fries with the skin still on were sat in a decorative little bucket, and the burger was packed full with what looked like three different kinds of meat, as well as salad and sauce.
“Marks for presentation?” Steve asked, and then smirked when Tony just shot him a dirty look. “Fair enough.”
Tony reached out and grabbed a couple of fries. Staring Steve down the whole time, he crammed them into his mouth and – shit. Shit, they were really good. He tried not to let it show on his face, but the look on Steve’s face told him he’d failed.
“The burger’s even better,” Steve told him, laying his hands down on the table as he pushed himself to his feet. “A truce it is, then. And your meal is on the house, of course.”
“You -” Tony caught his arm as he made to sweep past him, “- could drop by my restaurant sometime, if you wanted. I – we could return the favour. Only if you wanted, of course -”
Steve came to a stop and seemed to consider him for a moment. Then, reaching down to tug Tony’s napkin towards him, he pulled a pen out of his apron and wrote down… a phone number on it.
“I might just take you up on that offer,” he hummed, and then, with a final smirk, patted the napkin and then walked away without another word.
Shit, Tony was in love.