On a particularly dreary day in October, I made the drive from Chicago to Cadillac, Michigan. Cadillac is about an hour south of Traverse City, where I was going to be attending an event for work. I chose to stay in Cadillac for convenience and price; it meant only a five hour drive that travel day, and the Hampton Inn ran about $100 per night. The Traverse City Hampton Inn wanted $179 for the pleasure of staying in their 1980’s time-warp hotel. I knew that Traverse City was about a 50% bigger city than Cadillac, but I had stayed there before and figured I would experience something new in a different place.
And indeed I did.
My hotel was about a mile from the Downtown Cadillac Lakeside District, which runs parallel to Lake Cadillac. The “district” is about three short blocks of random shops, bars, restaurants, and a small movie theater. Of course, all the shops were closed before I got there (and probably filled with things I don’t need), but I planned to walk around and find somewhere for dinner. I first stopped in the Clam Lake Beer Company (Clam Lake was the original name of the city), but it was completely packed and was even standing room only at the bar. I moved on, and as I reached the end of the “Lakeside District,” I saw a place called the “Roaring 20’s Saloon.” I’ve been into a lot of cute establishments that refer to themselves as “saloons,” so I decided to give this one a try.
What happened next was straight out of a movie. I opened the heavy wooden door and streams of daylight lit up the dark insides. Once my eyes adjusted, I realized that every single person in the saloon had stopped mid-sentence and was staring at me. There wasn’t even music playing at the time, but all I could hear in my head was a record scratching. Faced with the choice of immediately walking out or toughing out the awkwardness for one drink, I sheepishly headed to the bar and ordered a bud light from the bartender, who almost looked at me with pity. I then proceeded to drink that beer faster than I used to in college while watching the bartender make that “fine food” you see advertised on sign above. I’m not sure how the griddle and the fryer sitting on the counter wasn’t a fire hazard; one spark would burn the whole place down in five seconds.
Anxious to get out, I asked tried to hand over my credit card only to find out that the minimum purchase was five dollars, unless I had cash.
I will never travel without cash again.
As I sat there pounding a second bud light, a guy limped out from the darkness of the back part of the bar. He had a huge belly and was wearing a blue tank top that didn’t meet the top of his dirty khaki shorts (it was 60 degrees outside). He also was carrying an oxygen tank with a six foot cord, and mercifully selected some music to start playing. I couldn’t even tell you what it was, but anything was better than the hushed talking between the few people at the bar who were all locals.
When I finally escaped, I went back to Clam Lake Brewing Company and waited it out for a spot at the bar, now understanding why the place was packed: it was the best place to go in the whole town. And while I was also surrounded by locals there, they were locals who were interested in why I was in town, rather than acting like I was invading their space. I mentioned that I had accidentally gone to the Saloon first, and the bartender said “oh no, the biker bar?”
Oh no, indeed.