I’m posting this from Regina, Saskatchewan, partway through another 14-hour drive from Calgary to Manitoba. Being on the road again has made me think of the Paris Café in Gladstone, Manitoba. It’s been about 12 years since I visited the Paris, but the internet assures me it’s still in operation, so I plan to check it out again.
Gladstone, population 802 (don’t underestimate the importance of the 2), is a typical prairie town with a rail line through the middle of it. Most small prairie towns have a Chinese food joint, left over from the days when Chinese labourers pushed the railway across the prairies. Appropriately, the inexplicably-named Paris Café (Chinese and American cuisine) snuggles up to the railway track.
I don’t know exactly when the Paris was built, but I’m going guess it was around the early 1900s. There are only a few feet between the wall of the wooden building and the sides of passing trains, and the dishes rattle precariously on the shelves as the deafening rumble drowns out all conversation.
The most exciting feature of the Paris is the view. If you happen to be looking out the front window when the train is coming, you’d swear you’re about to be run down. The oncoming tracks are slightly curved, and the train looks like it’s bearing down directly on the building.
Another endearing feature of the Paris is that the entire building slopes noticeably toward the railway tracks. So much so, in fact, that when you’re sitting in one of the bench seats, you have to cram a sweater under one butt cheek so you’re not straining your back to stay vertical.
As you may know, I talk about my bathroom experiences frequently*, so I would be remiss if I didn’t describe the bathroom. It was clearly added some time after the building was built, but before the building code got too stringent.
Let’s just say it’s a little cramped. The door swings inward, so it’s an exercise in flexibility to get into the bathroom and shimmy around the edge of the door to close it behind you. There’s a large notch cut out of the edge of the door around hip-height, because that’s the only way the door could get by the sink. This leaves a significant hole in the door when it’s closed, but what the heck, it’s a small town. If you got caught peeking, you’d never live it down.
The toilet has been installed using as little space as physically possible. The edge of the seat is inches away from the wall. This makes it impossible to sit the usual way, so you have to perch side-saddle. It wouldn’t be so bad if the toilet seat was securely attached. I won’t tell you how I discovered that it wasn’t.
I promised I wouldn’t tell any gross stories this week, and I won’t. Last time I was there, the miniscule bathroom was scrupulously clean, and the food was good.
But the best part was the atmosphere.
Anybody else have a favourite small-town restaurant experience?