Lincoln’s 10,000 Silver $ Bar
I-90 Exit 16
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Woah, what a trip. This place has literally not changed one iota since at least some time in the mid 1970’s if not earlier. When Q. and I entered the building one recent lazy Sunday afternoon, it was a bit of an overload as memories began flooding back to me. My parents used to get bored and drag me along for day trips here and there, and for some reason we would often end up here at the ultimate tourist trap - Lincoln’s 10,000 Silver $ Bar in tiny Haugan, Montana, just across the Idaho border. Maybe it was the glitzy name, or maybe it was just the era, but a trip here seemed like a visit to a magical place when I was a wee tot, huge and all bright blinking lights and fun fun fun. Even my parents would get excited, looming greedily over the salad bar with lit cigarettes and sipping hi-balls.
I recall it as seeming fairly classy at the time. Now, visiting here is like flashing back to another era that you can never (and don’t really want to) relive. The magic is gone, and the years have not been kind. The grungy off-pink walls give away the fact that smoking was not only allowed here for many years, but heavily promoted. The scent still lingers on the yellowed wagon wheels and cattle skulls that “decorate” the place. The well-worn brown naugahyde booths clash perfectly, leaving one to wonder if even in the deepest, darkest dregs of the seventies it was somehow acceptable to mix pink and brown.
“Please Seat Yourself” read the sign at the café entry. The gift shop, casino, and bar were abuzz with activity but the cafe was empty but for one random table full of gothic looking teenagers who looked like they’d been sitting there for three weeks. Naturally, we picked a booth near them so we could spy on their antics (we were them once, many years ago.) Our very pleasant waitress poured our water and gave us our menus. Wow – the water here is incredibly good. I always brag about how good Coeur d’Alene water is, but this tasted like it just melted right off a glacier and into my cup.
The menu was full of standard cafeteria fare – sandwiches, burgers, steak and salad, chicken strips, and the prices were clearly oriented toward the tourist. I picked a Mushroom Swiss Burger and Fries for $8.95, and Q. settled on a Western Burger for the same price. Good thing we decided quickly because our waitress returned after giving us only about 45 seconds. “More water, please” – I wanted to bottle it and take it home. Meanwhile, our gothic teen neighbors were making fun of the busload of Japanese tourists that had just poured into the gift shop.
One thing that can pretty much always ruin a dining experience is pesky, bombarding flies. Lincoln’s has some damn hard-core specimen buzzing around. We waved our hands around wildly trying to shoo them away, but it was pretty much useless. One landed for a moment on the rim of Q.’s just-refilled water glass, leaving him almost in tears: “Rats! Now I can’t drink it.” I thought “Oh, good, more for me, as I wiped off the tainted edge and took a glug.” I’m not a fan of flies, believe me, but Q. is picky and germ-phobic when it comes to that kind of thing. In fact, if I weren’t buying lunch and if he weren’t so hungry, we would have been gone at the sight of the first fly. The busboy, an elderly gentleman, noticed our wild gesticulations and approached the table gingerly. “I know…sorry about them darn flies. We had a guy in here gettin’ rid of ‘em last night, but as soon as that door opens, they just come right back in…but hey, it’s just like home, I guess …” he said with a grim chuckle. Q. and I looked at each other with the same thought: “Maybe your home, dude, but not mine…”
Inside the tiny open kitchen, we could see about six young cooks racing around, preparing our food and acting excited that they actually had something to do. I’m guessing the café must get busy at some point if they have this many chefs on hand. As soon as our food was done, they began roaming the place, desperately looking for ways to keep busy, wiping and re-wiping counters. Our burgers arrived in plastic baskets lined with classic red and white checkered paper. Mine was huge, and as I went to take my first bite, I dripped a viscous combo of grease and mayonnaise exactly all over the front of my shirt. Argh. Why does this always happen to me, and on my first bite, no less. Q. laughed, having seen it happen a dozen times before – “Hope you brought an extra shirt, cuz I don’t even wanna be seen with you in that dirty thing your wearing.” What a pal.
The burger was pretty good, but became even messier after the bun began to dissolve in my hands. I had grease and condiments all over my shirt, arms, and face. Q. daintily ate his, managing to not spill one drop of BBQ sauce or lose one crumb of the giant onion ring that lurked within. The home style fries were fresh-cut and delicious. We ate as quickly as possible, as to not give the evil flies even a chance to land on our food. Our waitress came by for a final check: “Dessert?” “No, thanks – more water please!” The food was tasty and quite satisfying, but nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly not worth nine dollars each. Any local Wendy’s offers similar fare at a better price, let’s put it that way.
Full, we paid up and waddled into the gift shop where I continued flashing back to childhood: The huge bins of shiny, multicolored rocks; the cheesy cowboy and Indian art; the faux-fur Daniel Boone hats; the shiny purple foil of Huckleberry chocolates; the decoupage placards of Elvis and Jesus; the million little dust-gathering knick knacks covering every flat surface. At a table in the bar lifelessly sat two carved wood figures, and I remembered them sitting there so many years ago. Q. pointed at my ungodly stained shirt and true to his word waved “bye-bye” as he headed out to the car. Looking around, I found a nice black T-shirt with a shiny, glittery silver dollar logo and the glorious words “Lincoln’s 10,000 Silver $ Bar, Montana” and brought it up to the counter where a couple of clerk ladies were laughing uncontrollably.
I was sure they were making fun of me so I joked “Oh, yes, the food was so good here I decided I had to wear it.” One of clerks said “Oh no, it’s not you…” and the other one leaned in and whispered to me “Oh, we’re just boy-watching, and she’s just awful, just awful.” The first clerk fanned herself with her hand: “Let me tell you there are some hawt guys around here – woo hoo!” I looked around the gift shop and realized the only men present were a couple of scrawny, smelly cowboy types with lips full of chew under huge mustaches and terrible mullet hair cuts – in other words totally not hawt. I gave a bewildered courtesy laugh and handed over the cash for my shirt. “Wow, welcome to Montana” I thought to myself as I snuck into the men’s room to change.