Saturday, January 5, 2008

60's In Cd'A Provided Some Eye-Popping Events

Somehow, I’m a little doubtful about my mother’s claim that the “hippie movement” of the sixties had arrived pretty much complete and on time up here in North Idaho. Certainly, the more pop aspects of the era were inescapable anywhere; The Beatles’ classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band obviously blared from lo-fi phonographs in basement rooms thick with incense smoke where human be-ins were planned and many tie-dyed shirts and macramé plant holders were made. However, I’d imagine that many folks in a town of Coeur d’Alene’s size forty years ago would have been reluctant to really embrace the more intense free love, pro-drug and anti-establishment values that came with the onset of the counterculture.

Nevertheless, my mother remembers witnessing firsthand an event which sounds like it could be described as North Idaho’s own miniature Woodstock. Bored one hot afternoon in the late sixties, my slightly naïve grandparents packed the family into the station wagon and headed up to Farragut State Park to check out a concert they’d seen a little ad for in the newspaper or somewhere. Laying out the picnic blanket and settling in, they were stunned to realize they were, as my mother puts it, “the only sober, normally-dressed people” in a crowd of thousands of half-naked hippies openly drinking beer, passing joints, and dropping acid to the throb of psychedelic hard rock. “The girls were running around completely topless,” she recalls. “Your grandfather’s eyeballs were practically bulging out of his head!”

Such hedonism was likely rare in these parts and most young folks in Coeur d’Alene pursued more innocent flights of fancy, such as the dances in the gym at North Idaho Junior College. Admission was a dollar, and every weekend would bring a different band, each with increasingly silly, sixties-ish names: “The Wilson-McKinley”, “Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra”, and my favorite, “Peach & the Pits”. Cruising Sherman Avenue was also a major craze at the time. A series of burger joints where all the cute, popular girls worked served as gathering points along “the loop”, starting with Paul Bunyan on the west end, and with Dairy De-Lite, Topper, and Arctic Circle rounding out the middle. The parking lot of The Boat Drive-In on the east side of town was the place to get a chili dog and rev up the Mustang before spinning out impressively and heading the other direction again.

The drinking age at the time was 19, so the kiddies didn’t have to wait too long before they could start frequenting night clubs and bars like the infamous Rathskeller’s Inn on East Sherman. The Goss family ran this notoriously uproarious beer and pizza joint, and for many years, it was the default hang-out spot in town for both college kids and the underage teens who managed to sneak in through the side window. Known affectionately by patrons as “Rats”, the bar featured live rock-n-roll bands, go-go dancers, pinball and pool tables. Longtime resident Virginia Balser shared with me a slightly twisted but entertaining memory about Rathskeller’s. “It was known to not have sufficient rest rooms for the patrons,” she explains, “and every weekend there were a number of gentlemen arrested for ungentlemanly behavior in the bushes outside.” Sounds like a situation that really reeked.

The Diamond Cup hydroplane races that once packed the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene with thousands of rowdy fans had begun to peter out by the late sixties, due to malaise caused by the massive drunken riots and civil disobedience that would inevitably accompany the events. My mother tells a great story about one of the last times the races were held, when she and her best girlfriend got dressed up in evening gowns and made fake beauty pageant sashes to wear which read something like “Miss Hydroplane Princess 1966”. Of course, there was no such title or pageant and the whole thing was merely a clever ruse enabling the girls to spend an evening being wined and dined for free by all the visiting hydroplane honchos at the Athletic Round Table, the elite lounge located within the elegant Desert Hotel.

Also on the classier side of the nightlife scene at the time was the North Shore Restaurant & Lounge, located in the footprint of what is now the Coeur d’Alene Resort, as well as neighboring Templin’s Waterfront Lodge. According to legend, Templin’s was the popular place for local business and politics bigwigs to have drinks because it was so dimly lit that they could avoid being seen by wives and busybodies while sneaking out on the town with their mistresses.

Further down Sherman was the Brunswick Café where, as witnessed by Coeur d’Alene’s Gary Ingram, the city council would meet for lunch on meeting day to decide what would be discussed at the meeting that evening. “This practice was the genesis of the Idaho Open Meeting Law”, says Ingram. Balser remembers having coffee breaks at the Brunswick with the Chief of Police and others. One day one of the regulars noticed that the menu included “Baked Owl with Dressing.” A prankster at a nearby business had managed to sneak away the menus over time and alter them, adding the unsavory “daily special”. According to Balser, “several people were outraged and finally the cook announced there was no ‘damned owl’ being served. The rest of us had great delight in this antic.” The Brunswick’s trademark “Awful Awful” burger is still served at the location, which is now The Iron Horse, but unfortunately I hear the burger is now just plain awful.

By the late sixties, Coeur d’Alene’s northward expansion had created a small strip of dining establishments on Appleway, near the town’s first indoor shopping mall, which was anchored by Buttrey Food & Drug and Montgomery Ward and was a huge deal at the time, despite only having about ten stores. The place had a distinct odor I can still almost conjure in my head which was specific to shopping malls of the era, a pungent mix of cafeteria fumes, new plastic shoes, hot popcorn, and artificial air. Nearby were both Elsie’s Dakota Café and Marie’s Coffee Stop Café, satisfying hungry mall shoppers who lined up at the lunch counters to have some soup and a sandwich and gaze longingly into rotating displays of pies and cakes. Both diners were run by big, loveable ladies who always sat in the back and treated all their customers like family.
Further west on Appleway, the Log Cabin Restaurant was considered fairly elegant at the time, boasting an extensive salad bar, perhaps the first of its kind in the area. Along with perennially popular favorites like Chicken Fried Steak and Spaghetti & Meatballs, menu options included more dated fare such as Liver & Onions and a Monte Cristo Sandwich (my favorite item you never see on menus anymore).

Cedar’s Floating Restaurant had recently opened its doors quite literally on the lake near the newly completed US-95 Bridge, and although it was well-known for it’s incredible steak and baked potato special and “soft lights” cocktail lounge, it wasn’t for the seasickness prone. I have some old photos of my parents and friends ringing in the New Year in 1968 out at the ultra-kitschy Happy Hour, which was just west of town on Seltice Way where The Grail sits now. The place looks smoky and cave-like, the depressing wood paneling and burgundy velvet wallpaper contrasting sharply with the florid hues of their outfits and dazzling party hats. Here was the local mecca for buffet-style dining, with a Wednesday all-you-can-eat Chicken Dinner and a splurge-worthy $2.85 Seafood Smorgasbord with 8 different seafood items including Alaskan king crab, lobster tail, and grilled fillet of Mau Mau Fish. Wait a second, wasn’t that the name of one of the bands playing down at the junior college?


Cathi said...

Well Good Morning. I have a little bit to say about the infamous Rathskeller on 14th and Sherman. First of all it was not owned by The Goss's, but by my Mother, Lolly Wheeler Goss, and by my Grandmother Anna McIntyre and my Aunt Jackie George as well as my stepfather Norm Goss who passed on April 6, 1968. Where over 200 of the guests of the Rathskeller showed up to pay there respects. It was not an uproarious joint as you might say. It was a place where people could go and sit by the fire on Wednesday night and have a beer and throw peanut shells on the floor. Did you ever hear of The Cascades, Rythum of the Rain. The bar attracted Great entertainment. Hydroplane races being cancled not The Rathskellers fault. The 4th of July Parade and kiddies Parade passed by with no problems. Hows your 4th's been in the last few years. All I know is that afamily built a Tavern and tried to support there family, which all children have grown up to be successfull. Before You jude a Family you might want to do more research. Cathi Wheeler Anderson, Las Vegas

Candace Conradi said...

Funny how things come back to the surface. I just read this post from January 2008. I am one of the co-owners daughters and I am very proud of what the Rathskeller did for the community. It gave a place for young people to gather. It was, yes, a tavern. There was beer that flowed and yes, sometimes people abused that right. Things have not changed as far as I can tell. Beer is still consumed and abused today. To call our business anything other than a business is like saying that grocery stores cause obesity. The Rathskeller hosted live entertainment for 20 years, offering top acts that drew literally thousands (if not tens of thousands) into its welcoming space over its life. It pulled visitors from Canada, Washington, Montana, Oregon and brought tourism to our humble little town; it provided and paid taxes for the citizens. It was one of the best "fast food" places and probably the most popular pizza place in town. There were many naysayers at the time, but I can honestly say that many of them were closet fans, enjoying a beer, pizza or hamburger in the shadows. Our business was run by my Grandmother Anne, affectionately known as "Annie," my mother Jackie and my Aunt Lolly who were beloved by many. They were all single mothers who created a powerfully influential business that served the community. Far ahead of their time, by their example their children all went into the world, strong and confident that they could do anything.

This past Tuesday evening we watched Glee, our favorite program on television. Its theme happened to be "Rumors." While all thing in life are imperfect, the other side of that coin is that they are also good in many ways. Often what is seen with our eyes (or through the eyes of our parents) is perceived only in part and not in whole and thus inaccurately. We choose to place our judgment and opinions rather casually, with little thought of how they land. The Rathskeller was a place that colored the history of our little town. That cannot be changed. Coeur d'Alene has grown up into a very sophisticated luxury vacation destination. The Rathskeller only a distant memory. But it still holds the imprint of those earlier days, when life was more simple. We had more fun then, and in some ways, and I miss some of those simpler times. I am proud to be the offshoot of such amazing women, a part of the history that colored our fare city. I cannot change anyone's point of view or perspective but I can offer the possibility of change. Every decade has its own imperfections and Coeur d'Alene was touched by the massive movement of the 60's like every other place on earth. But the Rathskeller, well it was just a place to go, dance, socialize and have some fun. I loved the imprint it and my family made. I am forever grateful for their courage, their strength and their example. Years have softened me to their hardships, their struggles, and their own challenges. What has remained unchanged for me is their example, an amazing gift I passed onto my children. To be strong, a leader, and striving for my best self was and remains today my greatest gift.

Gerry said...

It's interesting to read a little of the history of the Rathskeller. When I was in college, I thought it was a really cool place. It had some Seattle Bands as I remember, and was generally packed when I was there. I never was aware it was family run.

The Rathskeller and the Rock were the only two reasons I ever came to Idaho. I was 20, so Idaho was heaven. The Rock was an old 2-story schoolhouse with a round rock facade exterior just west of Post Falls that had been converted into a night club appealing to the younger crowd. It was huge, and it routinely had big bands from Seattle like Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts playing there on weekends.

It was where I had drunk my first beer ever. Had to add some tomato juice to it to cut the sharpness of the flavor of the beer. After several times there, I didn't need the tomato juice.

After drinking in Idaho, my sidekick and I would navigate back in the direction of Spokane hoping not to get stopped by the police. We usually ended up at the Zips on Division at 3 in the morning where my friend worked and his connections got us very well priced hobo steak sandwiches.

I've tried over the past few years to find locations of both the Rock and the Rathskeller, but couldn't remember exactly where they were. Now I know to look at 14th and Sherman for the Rathskeller. But the Rock? Don't know if the building is still standing, wouldn't know where to look.

Cathi said...

Well Good Morning. The building that used to be Rathskeller as I am sure u know is is a strip mall type now. And drove by the Rock and not sure what it is now. All I know is Coeur d'Alene is not what it used to be. So sad you can't go to Sanders Beach any longer. I spent 2 weeks in C D'A this past summer and enjoyed boating from Higgens point went to Harrison and saw my bud Davvid Albertini. Had a BLAST Even took the boat to Rose Lake. Oh and I will be there in August for MY 40th Class Reunion. C YA Then

Cathi said...

Let me tell you all The CdA police were right out side the door and we threw so many people in jail for false ID. Do Not act like it was a place for underage drinking. Check the Cd'A records.. SMH!

byron said...

Yes, Cathi,
The CdA cops had a great time at the Rat, and they seemed pretty casual to the locals.
We saw lots more underage drinkers at the Rock.

Anonymous said...

Given that my sister was the first full-out female hippie in Cd'A when I was a kid, and totally flipped my dad out at the VW dealership he was working in when she showed up after returning from California, I'm pretty darned sure that the city wasn't impeccable. I wore a fringed leather vest and "chickie boots" in my pre-school years, so that would have been '68, and flashed the peace sign to my family as I rode the carousel, influenced by my sister. I also remember my brother's stoner posters, that funny smell in his room when Mom and Dad were gone, and LOTS of stuff that showed Cd'A was right with the times as far as the hippie movement went.

Anonymous said...

Cathi, are you the Cathy Wheeler who lived on Elm next to the Runge's?

Unknown said...

So Vertical Earth purchased the old Rathskallers building and I was able to check out the old fire place in the building tonight... One could rent the space with that old fire pit right now for the memories....