Saratoga Day-Dreaming

In the early 70’s I was working a lot of nights. Four to midnight was a regular shift for me. Thus, my days were a bit skewed. Lunch was important. Many days, it began my day. It got the juices flowing. It got the little gray cells humming.

I was living just off Euclid Avenue. Geography and lunch funneled me to the Saratoga Restaurant. If it hadn’t, fate probably would have.

The “Toga” sagged on the precise piece of High Street where that urban label became the more rural Tates Creek. The front sagged. The neon sign sagged. The interior ceiling sagged. I snuggled in.

Chipped plastic-topped tables, free-standing and booth…harsh and flickering fluorescent lights…woogety chairs… two steps up to the bar with stools and more woogety chairs and tables…12-inch TV perched in the corner (black/white, non HD, squinting helps)…seriously heavy drink pours…

I know. It sounds too exotic to possibly be true, but as God is my witness…

Two or three times a week you could find me there for the $1.79 lunch special.

  • Might be the Iceberg Wedge; one-fourth of a head of lettuce buried in an impenetrable lava flow of blue cheese.
  • A Chicken-Fried Steak; to this day I don’t know what that even means and am in no hurry to enlighten myself.
  • A Salisbury Steak; to date, none of the Salisbury’s on the planet have stepped up to claim this war crime.
  • Pot Roast; picture a lake of brown gravy (23,412 calories per ounce) over an Alps of mashed potatoes.

It was a different dietary time.

The service was impeccable and personified by Mona.

Mona was the mistress of efficiency. She could approach your table and release your plate two feet away from your table. It would glide with a spill-less thud precisely in front of your cringing napkin. I remember one Friday during Lent. One of the specials was fish, of course. It was served with the head still attached. The patron who ordered it objected to that arrangement. Mona picked up the plate and the customer’s butter knife, performed radical surgery, and returned plate and knife to their original deployment. There were no more objections.

Most days, I was left alone to my lunch special and my book (I think I was reading a lot of Stephen King, Kazantzakis, Blatty, and Joseph Campbell at the time – whatta literary salad!). Other days would find me sharing a table with Charles Dickens (yes, that was his real name), professor of theatre, University of Kentucky. I learned a lot of theatre at lunch. Good for me. Unfortunately, it may have been at the expense of other theatre students at UK. I knew when Mona asked if Charles wanted another Manhattan before ordering lunch (there were two depleted glasses in front of him at the time), that his 1pm Directing Class was about to be discarded in favor of a mentoring/reminiscing session for yours truly. I’m not saying it was right, but…I learned a lot about the theatre, and heard some killer stories.

Yes, lunch is what I primarily remember about the Saratoga, but there were some remarkable Monday nights as well.

Monday Night Football was a major weekly event in season.

  • Arriving about seven to partake of the thinnest t-bone steak possible.
  • Matriculating up the three steps to the bar to join the Runyan-esque elite of the liquor industry as they attempted to out-drink and out-lie each other.
  • Watching my boss try to impress me by pounding double-Drambuie’s and ending up pounding the floor.
  • Ordering a Coke and being accused loudly of being a “Coke-sucker”.
  • Placing my weekly $5 bet on that night’s game.
  • Watching the blurry TV image (black/white, non HD, squinting helps – remember?) of the kick-off and about half of the first quarter in a room-full of blurry wannbe Nathan Detroit’s.

The bar and the restaurant closed at ten, so we were all off to our homes or what dubious adventures could be found in Lexington on a Monday night in the 70’s. I’m told you could be surprised,

Alas, I would be surprised.

But the “Toga”…

Tawdry…perhaps.

White, misogynistic, homophobic…oh yeah.

Dietetically healthy… <<snort>>

Enjoyable…hell…I was white, young and indestructible, straight male, privileged……sure.

I snuggled in.

Would I like to return to those halcyon days?

No.

I’d like to think I could grow.

It felt OK at the time, but it was not for everyone, and that was the problem. I no longer wanna keep track of who it’s good for and who it’s not. That’s way too much scorekeeping for me.

If that Saratoga reopened tomorrow…I’d be busy that day…whatever day it was.

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