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Our gallery of vintage photos of Roanoke restaurants resulted in a pile of comments and requests for more old pictures.
Mystery restaurant 1978: This is a photo of a fascinating bar, which appears to be adorned with hanging sausages and rifles, plus a guy who looks a lot like Andy Griffith but is probably not Andy Griffith. One fact is certain: This is the space on the corner of Salem Avenue and Market Street that later housed Billy’s Ritz. Today, a restaurant called Billy’s is open there. You tell us: What is this restaurant?
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
In last week’s column, I shared a treasure trove of vintage black-and-white photos of now-closed Roanoke restaurants.
As expected, the “blast from the past,” as several readers called it, resulted in a pile of comments and requests for more old pictures.
Before I share some of that feedback, I want to explain more about these photos. Starting in about the mid-’60s, prints of Roanoke Times photographs were saved in our library. In the early to mid-’90s, we stopped archiving prints of pictures and started saving them as digital files. That practice saved space, but it’s a lot more fun to flip through tangible copies.
Pictures older than the ’60s are stored on microfilm — these replicas of the newspaper go back to the 1890s. None of this content is available to the general public, but you can search newspaper archives on microfilm at the library.
The photos for last week’s feature came from those prints stored between the 1960s and the 1990s, which explains why some restaurants that were open in earlier or later years did not appear in the piece.
Judging by the reaction of some readers to the collection we published, I should have been looking harder for photographic evidence of a few restaurants in particular. But before I get to the most-requested list, let’s look at some of the fun memories that were conjured by last week’s column.
The picture of a young couple having drinks at a table at G.D. Grafitti, which was located at Tanglewood Mall, spurred a lot of talk. Many remembered the restaurant’s gangster theme, and although one person questioned the placement of tiki-lounge chairs in a mobster-themed eatery, others remembered all those details like it was yesterday.
“I was a role-playing server for a couple of years, awaiting a ‘real’ job,” wrote blog reader Terry Smith. “It was a hoot, being a ‘sponsor’ to serve drinks or a ‘bagman’ to handle dinner. And the violin case was the DESSERT menu: ‘to finish you off,’ as we threatened. Don’t let the chairs fool you, this was mobstser territory!”
“Our folks used to take us to G.D. Grafitti when we were little,” wrote Tony Barbour, “and the thing that sticks in my memory is the kids’ menus. The were made of cardboard and shaped like pistols, and if you held one in your hand and swung it down, the paper menu part snapped out with a popping sound. Eating out and being loud and annoying? What more could we ask for on a Friday night?”
Gary Abbott, who has owned Abbotts Restaurant in the Garden City neighborhood in Roanoke for almost 20 years, saw himself in the old images — literally.
“The picture of the Boiler Room,” he wrote, “that’s me at the sandwich unit. I remember to this day when that picture was taken. Fond memories.”
For Mike Blackwell, the pictures were a reminder of how much menu prices have changed: “If I remember correctly, I think a bottle of PBR at the Boiler Room was something like 85 cents! A draft Bud at the Capitol (8-oz. pilsner glass) was like 75 cents!”
Others’ memories of the Boiler Room revolved around its status as a men -only establishment.
“I do have a very, very early memory of my granddad picking up food from the Boiler Room and [me] thinking it was odd that women were not allowed,” wrote blog reader Shelly. “Made me wonder what was going on in there!”
Joyce Greer wrote that the Boiler Room picture brought back memories of waiting with her mother outside while her father hung out inside.
“But … Ernie or George would let me sneak in and play the shuffle board game in the back corner, in fact they would usually supply the change I needed for the machine,” she wrote.
Some of the pictures made readers think about their early experiences with non-American cuisine.
“I remember La Maison,” wrote blog reader AmyKay. “When I went to Hidden Valley Jr. High back in the late ’80s, it was a yearly treat for our French class to go have a dinner out there. I honestly don’t remember anything about the food itself, but remember how special I felt getting dressed up and eating somewhere fancy.”
Sammy Oakey had a similar memory about Fiesta Cantina.
“Man, I LOVED seeing this slice of yesteryear,” he wrote. “I had completely forgotten that Fiesta Cantina had a location on Franklin Road. My high school Spanish class ate supper one night at their old restaurant on Melrose Avenue.”
The picture of Archie’s Lobster House was another favorite.
“You have to be old to remember this, but Archie’s had a billboard at the intersection of Williamson and Orange that had a large red neon lobster with moving claws,” wrote blog reader 540Hokie. “Not sure when it was taken down. Archie’s also had dog kennels in the parking lot so travelers with dogs wouldn’t have to leave them in the car.”
Finally, an anonymous reader contacted me to clarify the caption on a photo of Corned Beef & Co. in Grandin Village. The restaurant did not move downtown from Grandin; at the time that picture was taken, there was already a Corned Beef location in downtown Roanoke.
For some readers, the column only left them wanting more. At the top of that list were the Catawba Emporium, Junior Lunch, Guy’s, and Villa Sorrento.
One reader suggested that I publish a book of old restaurant photos, saying he’d be the first to buy it. I might not get around to that right away, but I’ll certainly do another photo spread in the Extra section. Thanks for all the feedback, folks.
On the blog: A few more restaurant photos, including a mystery spot I cannot identify. Help me out by visiting blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet.
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