Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Steak & Ale: 1966-2008

I was waiting on an Austin-bound plane at Dallas Love Field yesterday when I found out from Kate that the parent company of Steak & Ale was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and closing every last Steak & Ale on the planet effective immediately.

Although Plano-based MetroMedia Restaurant Group is also shuttering company-owned Bennigan's, that chain will live on through franchisees. Not so for Steak & Ale. Now my hypothetical children will never know the joys of the world's most antiquated salad bar.

The first Steak & Ale was opened in Dallas by future casual dining kingpin Norman Brinker in 1966. At one time, the restaurant was a trailblazing entity bent on bringing Ye Olde Englishe-style steakhouse experience to good working people like you and me. It was also a good place for Seventies high school kids to take dates when Bonanza wasn't serious enough to move things to the backseat.

My first experience with Steak & Ale came in 1975. My folks and I had driven from Dallas to Austin to go camping with a group of families. Unfortunately, the camping excursion got rained out and we wound up stuffed in an apartment watching Evel Knievel jump a bunch of Greyhound buses on live TV from King's Island, Ohio.

When suppertime rolled around, we convoyed over to a Steak & Ale near the intersection of Anderson Ln. and Burnet Rd., just a few blocks from where I sit typing this. I recall the two-story restaurant's exterior gaily festooned with flags and the interior being thematically faithful to the chain's Anglo-happy roots. Our server gave me a paper placemat to color and I remember getting really into it. The one-trip-only salad bar, which would be rendered pathetic in three decades, seemed positively bountiful to my young eyes.

I occasionally dined at that Steak & Ale once I moved to Austin. In fact, I took the Peenbeets there back in 2002 right after we broke up as a beef-enhanced fin de si├Ęcle to our (ahem) career, but Steak & Ale was already a shadow of its former "unmisteakable" self. The restaurant closed a week or so later and became a flower shop.

My final Steak & Ale repast came with Kate in January 2007 in Arlington during an ice storm. "The restaurant was almost completely empty, which made the rancid mix of braying ballads blaring over the PA system all the more disconcerting," I noted at the time, "but I enjoyed my mixed grill and some of Kate’s filet mignon, too."

Fare thee well, Steak & Ale. I raise a glass of something to the medium rare memories of your shuttered remains.


travis said...

My wife Janet & I went to the bar at the Steak & Ale on Anderson on our first date, back in 2001. We just had drinks in the bar, purely for camp value. The Steak & Ale bar was a large, dimly-lit, wood-panelled, "old boy" room with family crests and paintings of fox hunts and other manly pursuits on the walls, and it was always empty. We went there several times after that, and then one day we rolled up and it was closed. The doors were still open for some reason, though, so we walked in and all the paintings had been taken down from the walls, as they were in the process of clearing it out. We stole a couple of those giant fox hunt paintings, and I gave one to my friend Phillip. It hung proudly in the living room of the Hyde Park house he shared with friends, and the painting remained there years after he moved out and other friends moved in. Ah, memories.

Kelicious said...

I spent many a childhood dinner at that Stake & Ale. I think my parents had a few dates there. PS i"m a friend of your cousin's from SF.