The first time I visited Walla Walla, WA I was 17 and was already planning on attending college there in the fall. My mom and I had driven the four hours out from Portland for a drama scholarship audition (I was still working on memorizing the monologue during the ride. I did not get the scholarship). We checked into the local Travelodge and went off to find dinner.
This was the spring of 1997, before the wine industry started gaining attention in the area and long before the New York Times had ever heard of Walla Walla. The options were slim. We turned our noses up at Clarette’s (a family-owned Denny’s clone), Burger King and the various taco trucks dotted around town and ended up parking in front of the Pastime Cafe. Down at the far of Main Street, the Pastime proclaimed it’s name and cuisine in bold, red neon letters.
We walked into the diner-like section (where we would end up having breakfast the next day) and were waved over by the elderly waitress with nicotine stains on her hands, who sat us in the half-empty left-side dining room. I don’t remember what I ordered, although I know my mom got a turkey dinner. The food didn’t matter nearly as much as the time capsule-like experience we had by eating there. Pictures of the family who had owned the restaurant for over 70 years, as well as their friends and customers, lined the walls. They stretched down the hall that lead to the bathroom, and several were even hung next to the paper towel dispenser. We asked our waitress a few questions about the pictures, which led her to promise a tour of the restaurant’s history once we were through eating. She was true to her word and walked us around the dining room for at least twenty minutes, giving us the abbreviated history of the Pastime.
While I didn’t eat at the Pastime much when I was with my friends, my parents and I made a point of eating there everytime they came to town. Last fall, when I went back to Walla Walla for my reunion, I stopped in, primarily to take the picture of the Spaghetti and Meatball clock you see above. I asked permission to take the picture and it was given enthusiastically. The waitresses put down their cigarettes, asked me if I liked history and proceeded to take me into the bar, to show me yet more pictures of the Pastime’s history.
I found out last night that the Pastime closed last January. Some family friends were taking a trip through Walla Walla, knew it from our description and were surprised to find it no longer existed when they drove by. My mom called me to break the news, in a manner that one would normally reserve for the death of a family pet. We talked about how everything has a lifespan, and how grateful we both are that we knew Walla Walla in the days when it was still funky and laden with remnants of prior times. I’ve spent the day mourning the fact that the Pastime doesn’t exist anymore and hoping that the Spaghetti and Meatballs clock has found a good home.
In my search for details about the Pastime’s closing, I stumbled across this blog entry, which I though told a nice story about it.