Harley Hay

Yes, I enjoyed dinner, but I missed the phones on every table

Everybody has a favourite restaurant, especially when there’s a looming possibility you can’t go to it on account of, say, a worldwide pandemic or two.

We humans are funny that way – we seem to want something even more when it turns out we can’t have it. You know, like a 1,000-calorie chocolate chip cookie sundae or just one more episode of M*A*S*H.

So a couple of months ago, when damn-demic numbers were looking pretty good, and the “second wave” hadn’t yet hit us like a tsunami, the Better Half and I decided it was prudently acceptable to visit our favourite restaurant on account of the simple fact that we were basically going stark raving mad and needed to dig a tunnel or go over the fence and escape, even for just a little while, by doing something special, which pre-demic used to be more or less “normal.”

So we did, in fact, drive to our favourite restaurant and we shamelessly wallowed in and lingered over our favourite dinner. It was the epitome of awesomeness. Thing is, the restaurant was 265.1 kilometres away.

Oh, we have a favourite restaurant right here in the old home town, all right – in fact, we have several, but our great escape was based on the premise of indulging in a little careful travelling to facilitate our temporary pandemic distraction (“panstraction”) and, coincidentally, that very special restaurant happens to be in Banff.

I don’t know if you’ve been to The Grizzly House, right on the main street in Banff, and it may not be your cup of tea – or more to the point, pot of fondue – but it’s been around since the very first time I ever went to Banff, which was so long ago, Rundle Mountain was known as Rundle Hill.

Back when the gondolas on Sulphur Hill consisted of three gondolas going up 30 metres and back. The Banff Springs Hotel was a 10-room motel. So, pretty long ago.

The streets of Banff were oddly surreal and surreally odd. Everyone was wearing masks inside and out as per the town decree, and the “everyone” was hardly anyone.

It was quite nice, truth be told, to wander around an otherwise iconic Banff Avenue and take our time in a nearly empty Christmas store, candy store and book store.

And when everyone else is wearing a mask (except for one or two stubborn contrarians), it is strangely tolerable, and you feel like you are doing something good, even if you all look like a convention of surgeons on a lunch break.

We try to go to The Grizzly House at least once a year, but hadn’t had the chance for quite a while. So when we walked in this time, we were glad to see the restaurant still hadn’t changed much at all since the ‘60s.

Except for all the earmarks of 2020 – Plexiglass dividers and a kilometre between the tables, and the fact that all the servers seemed to be from the surgeons’ convention.

But when we sat down, we immediately noticed one key feature of any visit to the restaurant was, in fact, missing due to COVID. The table didn’t have a telephone.

The Grizzly House remains the only restaurant I’ve ever been in where every table has its own phone, and there is a map on the super cool hand-drawn menu numbering every table.

So whenever the whole family gets to go there, I love to embarrass the Rotten Kids by phoning other tables: “Hi! This is Table 14 calling; how’s your dinner?”

This works especially well when you call people who haven’t noticed the phones. And get this: there is a phone in each bathroom. Those calls are even better.

Oh, and yes, the food is to die for.

Next week: What the heck is a “hot rock”?

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker.

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