Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

CremedeMentheParfait

Creme de Menthe Parfait (explanation for people born after 1955…..).

Occasionally someone in the small mountain town where I live these days mentions a local semi-secret restaurant reputed to serve extraordinary locally-sourced steaks.  Having managed to try every other local eatery EXCEPT this one over the years, it was time to brave what I was sure was going to be an intimidating dining experience.

There is no advertisement at all for this place – and no sign outside.  Local lore has it that it was a speakeasy during Prohibition.  The woman I’d spoken with for reservations wanted me to know that their menu is very limited, that payment is on a cash-only basis, and that “gentlemen are NOT ACCEPTED IN SHORTS”.  Her pleasantness made things sound less exclusive than I’d feared, and on the day of our reservation, my husband texted to joke that he was NOT WEARING SHORTS.  I texted him back to ask him if he’d remembered to at least put on some tighty whities.

TightyWhities  Not my husband……

Like most small, isolated mountain villages, there are regular folks who have always lived here and who provide necessary goods and services with their labor and their small businesses.  They are the backbone of the community.  There are also many who have discovered the town and come here at retirement age, and still others who are lucky enough to be able to work from any locale and so choose to live in this beautiful mountain area.   I personally got here in a more roundabout way and am glad to be here.

Otherwise, there are the people who live in the secluded enclaves outside town among country clubs and hunt stables. They are pleasant and surprisingly unostentatious when they show up in town, and aside from the fancier cars and the jodphurs they sometimes wear, you might hardly know that they have the last names of titans of banking and industry.  I’m told they are the habitués of the secret steak house.

Palmer_and_Nicklaus,_1965,_Ligonier,_Pa

Two famous frenemies in town for golf, one of them a local, 1965 (Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer).

America in the 1930’s and 1940’s saw the rise of affordable automobiles for families, but the superhighways hadn’t been built yet, so when families went on outings from the cities, all went on the backroads (the U.S. had less than 1/3 of the population that we have now, so things in general were much less crowded).  This newfound mobility by car produced wonderfully-tacky roadside attractions and rustic eateries and accomodations all over the nation.

Noah'sArk                 RoadsideAttraction

Noah’s Ark, Shellsburg PA (gone now, overlooked 3 states) and Another Roadside Attraction, Bedford, PA

The mountains were a summer retreat for families fleeing the red-hot blast furnaces of Pittsburgh’s steel mills, where much of the nation’s steel for railroads and skyscrapers was made between 1865 and 1959.  Old-timers spoke of leaving their houses in Pittsburgh in white shirts at 8 a.m. and coming home for lunch at noon in the same shirts turned gray by the soot from the mills.  As such, getting out of the heavily industrialized city was (and still is) a welcomed relief.

LigonierBeach

“The Beach” – filled by springwater from the mountains.

We found the secret steak speakeasy:  an obscure and weathered old white clapboard house off a quiet backroad.  The house is enveloped by towering pines whose branches drape over an old porte-cochere in front of a nondescript entrance with a discreet buzzer to announce one’s arrival.  There is a small square peephole in the door.  When the door opened,  we slipped quietly through a time warp and found ourselves in a dark roadside-style clubhouse, seemingly straight out of the late 1930’s.

The entrance was flanked by plastic-and-chrome gas station chairs, and there was absolutely NOTHING to indicate wealth or status. We were asked if we wanted to have a cocktail (a cocktail…..) at the bar before dinner.  Evidently this is de rigueur because every group who arrived after us gathered briefly at the large, rectangular bar for a quick before-dinner drink.  The adjoining dining room was dark and claustrophobic with dim yellow lights and thickly waxed linoleum tile squares covering the floors with deep shades of red and green.  The ceilings were low and the walls were paneled with dark wormy-chestnut – like a rustic hunting cabin.  There was a yellowed plastic Budweiser clock on the far wall and an ancient cigarette machine with art deco font.

As groups of patrons entered and took their places, it became apparent from their comfort and familiarity with each other that a sedate, predictable routine was in progress.

The menu consisted of two steak options and a salmon option.  The salad options were tossed or wedged lettuce  (thousand island dressing possibly mandatory for the wedged lettuce).  The vegetables:  plain lima beans or plain boiled mixed vegetables.  Husband joked that this was the kind of place where a creme-de-menthe parfait might still feature prominently on the dessert menu.  We were a little weirded out to be find that, indeed, one of the two desserts on offer was a Creme de Menthe parfait.

TheDriftwood

Another local retro place that probably went through a lot of creme de menthe back in the day.

There was nothing trendy or camp in the demeanor of this place – it had simply stayed fixed in time, seemingly with no awareness at all that the world outside had been adjusting and changing itself for 80 years.   I wondered if Rod Serling might stroll in to narrate the scene.   It was later explained that the original owner had wanted this original ambiance preserved, and so the family members who operate it now kept things the same in his honor.

As we departed, we were warmly greeted by diners we’d never met, almost as if in this one strange little place frozen in time, things could still be as they once were so long ago. It was a good and interesting experience, and we’ll go again someday.

And now, because sometimes it is necessary to get as far away from small towns as possible:

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

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36 Responses to Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

  1. Good stuff! Very funny!

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  2. Really nicely written piece, Beth. I would love a steak in that restaurant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth says:

      That’s really kind of you – I’ve started reading your blog and am enjoying how diverse your interests are and how each are interwoven with various threads. You have great range.

      My brother-in-law is also an editor – for various trade magazines in D.C. – and has had some of the most interesting jobs! I’m no writer, but always enjoy reading and hearing from others in the blogosphere.

      In truth, the steak was fairly average, but you may well have enjoyed the strange atmosphere:0)).

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  3. I can’t even begin to guess why I didn’t comment long ago (was I in some big busy rush? Maybe. There’s not much of a good excuse, whatever I came up with.) This was a deLICIOUS story. So great that you put us right there. I sigh. Thank you.

    Ourselves, we can hardly resist the places floating in time; unfortunately, we’ve found that the cooking is generally still stuck there, too. The charm is short-lived. Except for the Irish coffees. They can still swing great Irish coffees at those rat-packy, leather booth-ed joints. Almost makes it worthwhile. Almost. A couple of years I go, I loaded up on Bushmills and heavy cream and followed instructions to a T and that solved all problems. I will say that there’s nothing quite like a BAR stuck in time. The Frolic Room, in Hollywood, was my hangout for a long time for all of the best nostalgic reasons. And Wipeout was on the jukebox.

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  4. milliethom says:

    A lovely, nostalgic little trip back to the past, Beth. You described it all so beautifully and the surrounding scenery sounds perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Mughal Home – The Uncertainty Principle

  6. vinnieh says:

    This post really made me laugh, tighty whities indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It was a lovely outing to the dinner back into the time! Just loved the description of the different but serene place you went to. This brought some memories of a South-Indian restaurant where my family used to go on some special occasions or simply when dad wanted to conciliate my mother 😀
    Though it must be in abundance in your beautiful town, but for me, simplicity appeals the most and I would love to make a visit there, once I earn and save enough 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth says:

      I’ll bet the food in the restaurant of your memory was much better!! As an antidote to this place, we went to the city to our favorite Indian restaurant – the music video channel they play is called B4U.

      I hope you’re enjoying your new job! Let me know when you earn and save enough -. It’s a big country and much natural beauty to see. Alot of people who come for the first time don’t like New York City much, and I don’t blame them. I’m with you, simplicity is a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nostalgia always makes me all fuzzy inside. I can say the same for that creme de menthe parfait…but I would not be saying that in a good way. 🙂 One of the first real trip experiences I had was a visit to Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster with my grandparents. I eventually took my son there and it had not changed much in 40 years. Somehow, this post reminds me of that first trip……

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love this post, and I’m sure that’s your husband in his tighty whites. (smile) Love the idea of a secret restaurant, and your description of the area.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hello Beth, I just stopped by to thank you for following my blog and have already found 2 fascinating posts so I shall follow you too! This really does sound an intriguing experience, I was half expecting it to turn into a ghost story!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow that was almost literally a trip. There was a place like this in San Diego; it remained in the mid 1960s. Not a bad thing at all if you ever crave steak and lobster with a baked potato and a Manhattan. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth says:

      That’s exactly the kind of place, Martha. It seems this place was owned by a guy who was devoted to this one very specific way of doing things from so long ago and when he died, his daughter kept to them in running the place. I remember these places from long ago, but have no idea how they keep customers nowadays other than that it must be tradition for some. We drove to a good Indian restaurant in Pittsburgh yesterday for an antidote:0).

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I really enjoyed this post and it’s retro images. When we lived in Spain there were some mountain villages with fantastic restaurants that served typical Spanish traditional food. You had to book your meal at least three days in advance, so they would be sure to have the ingredients on hand, particularly the meat. The price was half what it would have been on the coast but the food was delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth says:

      Oh I’m so interested in those experiences in Spain. I’ve been wanting to go to see the basics, but also have been toying with the idea of walking the main Camino. I’m glad to have connected, Jean, and so glad you liked the post. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what will fly and what will just sound like drivel to people.

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  13. Carrie Rubin says:

    Sounds like a bizarre restaurant but worthy of a visit just to say you’ve been there. Given I don’t eat red meat or seafood though, I would have left hungry. The veggie options don’t sound too tantalizing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth says:

      I didn’t make it through much steak and don’t eat much meat either, and that’s exactly how I’m viewing it – as something that had to be done once. It was a bit bizarre, like a little world that time forgot. I’m looking forward to your new book coming out, Carrie, and like the cover art you chose also. It was interesting to read about the process.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I remember creme-de-menthe parfaits as a child. Can’t imagine serving alcohol to kids these days!!
    Wonderful time travel!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. primrose says:

    thank you for taking me out to dinner with you! I enjoyed this vignette very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth says:

      I’m so glad, Prim! I can never tell if I’m writing anything anybody would want to read, or just sending out drivel, so I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Like

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