Skip to content

The last of a great American icon

10/15/2013
Follow the sign from the motel lobby to a historic dining experience right out of the 1970s

Follow the sign from the motel lobby to a historic dining experience right out of the 1970s

 

A classic American cafe counter greets diners at one of the last Howard Johnson's restaurants still in business

A classic American cafe counter greets diners at one of the last Howard Johnson’s restaurants still in business

One of the last vestiges of a great American restaurant chain stubbornly clings to life on a crowded freeway frontage road near the Bangor airport.

It’s one of two Howard Johnson’s restaurants still operating in the United States.

But here’s the kicker: The place has great food.

According to 24/7WallSt.com, Howard Johnson’s started as a Quincy, Massachusetts ice cream stand in 1929. It grew to become one of the most recognized businesses in the country, operating more than 1,000 blue and orange restaurants and motels from coast to coast by the 1970s.

Sometime in the 1980s, the company shifted focus to the motel side, closing or selling its famous restaurants. Howard Johnson’s was a Times Square landmark for 50 years before it was leveled for retail space in 2005.

Somehow word of the restaurant closings never got to Maine.

An old restaurant welcome sign sits behind the daily special board

An old restaurant welcome sign sits behind the daily special board

The Bangor Howard Johnson’s quietly serves overnight  guests from its adjacent motel the same way hundreds of others did back in the 1960s and 70s.

My guess is few people in town know about this legendary place. It’s tucked behind the ubiquitous “A” frame Howard Johnson’s motel lobby on a road frequented mostly by travelers. There’s no billboard. No rave reviews in the paper; and it’s only open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The place is kind of lost in time.

So naturally I had to eat there.

Jen and I ate breakfast at the Howard Johnson’s last weekend. We carried a camera and our truck boasted out of states plates  so we fit in with the dozen or so other diners.

“I feel like I’m in a  the scene from ‘Fargo,'” said Jen.

The Howard Johnson’s restaurant has multiple rooms and looks like it can seat more than 100 people. A long counter with swivel chairs and a pastry showcase greets diners at the door. We picked a big, maroon-colored naugahyde booth in a room surrounded by gold-leaf mirrored walls.

Jen struck a pose in one of the naugahyde booths just before breakfast

Jen struck a pose in one of the naugahyde booths just before breakfast

Our waitress was dressed in black but was cheerful, polite and patient as we snapped pictures and fawned over the 1970s vide of the place.

“Sorry, we’re acting so goofy,” said Jen.

I asked to photograph the menu. “This is one of the last Howard Johnson’s still around,” I told the waitress.

Judging from her look, she either heard it before or wasn’t much impressed. It didn’t matter. She retrieved a menu and took our order.

Jen picked a big combo breakfast. I asked for my usual: blueberry pancakes and bacon.

The food was fantastic.  Jen focused on her over-easy eggs, then moved to the extra-crispy bacon before sharing a sausage patty and attempting to finish the pancakes. My cakes looked like they were involved in a kitchen blueberry spill: overflowing with real Maine blueberries, not store-bought Argentinian imports.

We watched other travelers trickle in and out of the place. Our coffee cup never got low.

In the end, I paid our $20 bill, tipped the waitress and we headed for home – a 10 minute drive.

If we want to eat at the only other remaining Howard Johnson’s we’ll have to go a little further. It’s in Lake Placid, NY.

Editor’s note: Thanks to my friend John, a Forest Lake resident and proud University of Maine alumni, for telling us about this lost piece of Americana.

The Bangor Howard Johnson's restaurant is located at 336 Odlin Road

The Bangor Howard Johnson’s restaurant is located at 336 Odlin Road

Advertisements

From → Bangor, Food, Travel

5 Comments
  1. Jen permalink

    I was doing my best impression of Bono in that shot.

    I’m not sure if I’d say the food was great, but it was much better than Mark and I expected! Real Maine blueberries in pancakes is hard to beat!

  2. Jen permalink

    I should add that I thought the service was great.

  3. John permalink

    We’ll be in Maine again next summer and it would be fun to stop in at this HoJo’s. It was a great institution that didn;lt survive the building of the interstate highway system.

  4. Love Jen’s quote: “I feel like I’m in a the scene from ‘Fargo.” Ha! Now I’m craving blueberry pancakes…

  5. I miss HoJo’s!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Revisiting Montana's Historic Landscape

30 Years in the Big Sky Country

RoadsideArchitecture.com -- the companion blog

roadtrips & posts documenting vintage signs, statues, buildings, and more

Outside In Duluth

Outdoor. Kid. Fun.

Digital Storytelling | University of Minnesota Duluth

Featuring student work from the University of Minnesota Duluth Journalism program.

Laura's Birding Blog

What happens when a Twin Cities townie follows his wife into the woods?

Outdoors with Sam Cook

Exploring the North Woods

365 Days of Birds

Duluth, Minnesota based birder / photographer. Sax-Zim Bog naturalist.

Mark in Maine

What happens when a Twin Cities townie follows his wife into the woods?

Ed's Big Adventure

He farms! He writes! He paints!

Zenith City Online

Celebrating Historic Duluth, Western Lake Superior & Minnesota's Arrowhead

Perfect Duluth Day

What happens when a Twin Cities townie follows his wife into the woods?

Time to play b-sides

What happens when a Twin Cities townie follows his wife into the woods?

Digital Nomad

Travel Dispatches from Robert Reid

SUBSTREET

history under ground

Czechesotans

What happens when a Twin Cities townie follows his wife into the woods?

Little Brown Mushroom

Little Brown Mushroom

Penobscot Marine Museum

What happens when a Twin Cities townie follows his wife into the woods?

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: