Home Away from Home at the Roanoke
If you love the Roanoke, the Notice of Proposed Land Use Action on the corner of its block comes as a terrible shock. But never fear: "The construction'll go to about three feet outside our house—I mean, wall," Dennis the bartender says. His slip of the tongue is an understandable one, as the 'Noke has been home away from home to many since 1980 (and before that, in various drinking-establishment incarnations, since around 1935).
On a recent night, the staff's red-and-white stockings are still hung without particular care behind the beer taps. The potbellied stove glows through the slits of its eyes; firewood is supplied by customers with downed trees or access to job-site scraps. The big heater suspended in one corner—"that hairdryer," Dennis says—stays quiet, and the place is toasty. In better weather, there's ping-pong in the backyard.
The Roanoke is also known as the Chia Pet, in honor of its exterior coat of ivy. From the inside looking out, each window has an extra frame of encroaching twigs and leaves; it's dim and friendly and worn, like a tree house with drinks and pinball. Three TVs show three kinds of sports, with related announcements and exhortations often featured on the outside reader board (interspersed with various congratulations—on birthdays, coupledom, babies—and, once in a long while, a heart-wrenchingly terse RIP). The front door bears a directive to neighborhood teams to leave muddy footwear elsewhere, and the back room has photos through the years of those teams. In the men's room: some retro, sporty, good-natured photography of the NSFW variety. In the women's: vintage Life magazine covers (Faye Dunaway, "The pocket calculator craze," etc.).
Every man on the premises save Dennis wears a ball cap, visors oriented forward. There's disgusted discussion of the proliferation of bowl games ("too fucking many of them") and the virtues or lack thereof of cement mixers (the drink, not the heavy machinery). It's entirely possible to ignore the TVs, as two women drinking beer and talking by one of the hobbity windows do.
One weekday afternoon a long time ago, I was drinking beer at the Roanoke, unemployed. I got to talking to a friend of a friend, who turned out to be one of the owners, and by the time I left I had a job as a cook in the Roanoke's tiny kitchen. I had no experience. This is the kind of thing that happens at the Roanoke. The menu seems exactly the same—sandwiches, burgers, nachos—but the food is surprisingly good. The embroidered names on the stockings are unfamiliar, but Dennis knows Tom, the barkeep way bar when. "You'll find nothing much has changed around here," he says, at our house.
Roanoke Park Place, 2409 10th Ave E, 324-5882