I should have known better. A few weeks ago, I decided to visit an online auction site. I entered the search word “Duluth,” clicked on the little drop down box labeled “antiques and collectibles” and started to browse. This always leads to trouble. Or at the very least, a draining of my bank account.
I always have to scroll past an insane amount of postcards to find anything else, but once I do, I’m always intrigued. This time, I found a Duluth Lodging and Dining brochure from May 1981. I don’t know what I expected to find in this brochure (certainly not anything I didn’t already know) but because it sported retro brown lettering printed on that one shade of orange that was used only in the ’70s and early ’80s (albeit extensively), I suddenly found myself out $7 plus shipping.
Once in my hands, it was as glorious in real life as I’d hoped it would be. The dated orange and brown did the trick, setting my brain firmly on “nostalgia.” The first thing I read, however, threw me for a loop. The brochure was titled: “Duluth: One Great Lake and a whole lot more.” The strange capitalization aside, was that a slogan in the 1980s? I have no memory of this phrase. Nevertheless, I soldiered on, enjoying the word cloud of place names and logos gracing the cover. It was like a who’s who of my childhood.
Inside, the left-hand side listed lodging, the right-hand side, dining. In 1981, a motel room in downtown Duluth (a rare breed today) rented for as little as $18 per night. In a nod to Duluth’s tourist-based future, however, the price went up to $21 a night over the summer months.
The Buena Vista still offered a panoramic view at a reasonable price. “Motel Row” on London Road was still alive and well, with eight motels listed along eight blocks, from the London Manor Motel at 1801 London Road to the Flamette at 2621 London Road. All boasted color TVs and direct-dial phones, right in the rooms.
I’d forgotten how delightfully named most of the West Duluth motels were: Starlight, Grand, Allyndale, Seaway. The Duluth Motel sat in the shadows of Denfeld’s clock tower. The Willard Motel, which, against all odds, still operates on Grand Avenue. Though its name has changed slightly (it’s now the Willard Munger Inn), it’s one of the few motels still operating in Duluth.
Since I was a child in 1981 and lived in Duluth myself, I had little reason to stay in a motel. I remember seeing them as we drove by, but they otherwise had little impact on my life aside from the two summers during my teenage years when I worked as a maid at the Viking Motel on Motel Row.
The dining side of the brochure, however …
I don’t remember my family eating out a lot, but we must have done so more than I thought because I remember every single place listed. The Bellows, where my mother and I would occasion when taking my elderly Uncle Milton out for lunch. Somebody’s House, nestled just off Woodland Avenue. I loved going there, mainly because as a child, I found the name terribly witty.
Bridgeman’s, of course. I was partial to the location on 13th Avenue East and Superior Street because that’s where I dreamt of one day eating a Lollapalooza that my parents would never let me order, then couldn’t finish even half of when they finally did. The Bread Board, because my dad would regale me with stories of his days working there, back when it was known as The Captain’s Table Cafe. Though I doubt I ever ate at Jolly Fisher — I wouldn’t touch anything seafood as a child — I always smiled at the name when passing by, my head leaning against the window of the DTA bus.
The Chinese Lantern and Casa de Roma were good choices when we wanted something “out of the ordinary.” The Perkins on London Road, back when it was located in that little building on 14th Avenue East. It was my favorite as a young child because it had a sandbox in the basement. It was my favorite as a teenager and young adult because they’d allow large groups to come in and order only coffee.
Sir Benedicts boasted the “best lakeview in a true English setting,” which is likely still true to this day. Oddly, it specifically advertises that it serves avocado. In 1981. Before its time? Maybe that’s why it’s one of only a handful of restaurants listed on this brochure to still be operating today, alongside other time-honored institutions such as Grandma’s, Sammy’s and Pickwick.
I even felt all soft and fuzzy remembering the Hardee’s that used to stand on London Road. Both my mother and I enjoyed their hot ham-and-cheese sandwiches, so she’d sometimes take me there when it was just the two of us. I always gave her a hard time for ruining her sandwich by putting horseradish sauce on it. When I moved back to the Twin Ports in 2012 and realized there was a Hardee’s still open in Superior, I headed over to try the sandwich for nostalgia’s sake. I put the horseradish sauce on it and — surprise, surprise — loved it. Sorry, mom. It only took me 40 years to come around.
Though I am now hungry and a few bucks poorer, I’d say it was $7 well spent.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at email@example.com.