For the past couple of years, Mom and I – and other customers, too, I assume – have known that the Ace Bar & Grill was in a precarious position.
It’s been about two years since Janice, one of our regular servers there, told us that the restaurant was up for sale. The owner was retiring, she said, and was hoping to sell the property as a restaurant, trying to keep intact the business that’s occupied the corner at Wilson Avenue and East Saint Germain since 1932.
Every once in a while, during our weekly or so stops at the Ace, we’d ask Janice or one of the other servers if there were any news. No matter who it was, she’d shake her head. “Haven’t heard a thing” is something we heard a lot.
Last week, the news came down. The Texas Gal spotted it first from the St. Cloud Times via Facebook. The Ace was closing on October 31. The property had been sold, but there was no indication of what would come next. I mentioned it to Mom Monday. She’d missed the story in the Times. “Oh, no,” she said. We agreed that we’d get there Tuesday after running a few errands.
As I’ve noted here before, since Mom moved into her assisted living center ten years ago, we’ve been regular lunch customers at the Ace. And for years before that, going back into the early 1960s, the Ace was a regular stop for our family after movies and basketball games or sometimes just for a meal out, and on a memorable evening in 1978, the Ace hosted the groom’s dinner for my first marriage. (The eventual failure of that pairing doesn’t negate the good memories that came along the way, and that dinner is one of those memories.)
And I’ve written here several times about the place, called the Ace Bar & Cafe back then and styled as the Ace Bar & Grill in recent years, most likely since the place was rebuilt after a fire in the 1990s. I’ve told how, when I was twelve or so, I got lost in the warren of corridors in the old building and ended up in the smoky bar, surrounded by loud and tall people. I’ve mentioned how I always notice the music coming from the ceiling speakers, chronicling the changes in recent years from a mid-1960s soft sound (think Ferrante & Teicher and Ed Ames) to a mid-1990s sound (think Gin Blossoms and Corrs) and then back to an adult contemporary mix of the late 1960s and early 1970s (think B.J. Thomas and Cat Stevens).
It had been a while since Mom and I had made it to the Ace, given her travails and mine this autumn, but we got there Tuesday and were greeted warmly. “One last time, eh?” our server asked as she led us to our table. I nodded sadly and asked if there were any clues as to what would follow.
“Not a thing,” she said.
I’ve seen rumors online of a Kwik-Trip convenience store, and it’s true that the neighborhood could use a convenience store/gas station, though I think the better site for that would be at the west end of the same block, where a Holiday stationstore recently closed (and where the building that Holiday occupied is the same one that housed Carl’s Market – the source of the best potato sausage I’ve ever had – from before I can remember to sometime in the 1990s). The corner property on which the Ace stands seems too small to accommodate a Kwik-Trip, several of which have opened in the St. Cloud area this year.
So we had our regular lunches: Hash browns with two eggs over easy for Mom and a burger with smoked Gouda cheese, fried onions and bacon – no bun, no pickle – for me, with tater tots and ranch dressing on the side. She had a chardonnay and I had an amber ale, and when we finished, we wished the servers well and made our ways out of the Ace Bar & Grill for likely the last time.*
And as I think about the Ace this morning, I can forget that it’s 2016 and that I’m 63. I can forget that Mom is in her nineties and that Dad has been gone for thirteen years. I can forget that the Ace as it is today was built in the 1990s after the fire that destroyed the old Ace with its warren of corridors that had to confuse more people than just one twelve-year-old boy. In my mind, the Ace Bar & Cafe will forever be somewhere in the years between 1965 and, oh, 1978, with the noise from the bar at the front of the building almost, but not quite, drowning out the easy listening soundtrack coming from the dining room’s overhead speakers.
Again, think Ferrante & Teicher. And the song that starts with the line “Once upon a time there was a tavern . . .”
Here are Ferrante & Teicher with their take on “Those Were The Days.” It’s from their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.
*The place is open through Monday, and it’s possible the Texas Gal and I might get there over the weekend, but given our weekend busyness, that seems unlikely.