Another piece of my college years disappeared today, or more accurately, last night.
The Parkette Drive-In, a Lexington, KY landmark for 70 years, has announced its closure, effective immediately. As the saying goes, attention must be paid.
The Parkette originated on a dirt road on the outskirts of the city in 1951. That dirt road is now New Circle Road, a major beltway that has itself been superseded by Man O’ War Boulevard. Specializing in fried chicken and fried fish dinners, and double-decker burgers known for some reason as “Po-boys” (New Orleans notwithstanding), the Parkette was a real-life piece of American Graffiti culture come to life, with a classic neon sign beckoning drivers to stop in through the decades.
While it never achieved the fame of say, Atlanta’s Varsity, the Parkette was a staple of Central Kentucky life, whether for patrons wanting to show off their classic cars or folks wanting to grab a bite before or after watching their (and my) beloved UK Wildcats.
It survived the COVID pandemic — in fact, it prospered as folks didn’t have to go inside to dine (although the restaurant did have a dining room, complete with old-school pinball machines), and the restaurant was one of the few that managed to retain its full staff. However, the restaurant business is known for its razor-thin margins, and the owners have said that the combination of high fuel prices and cool weather had damaged traffic, and so the family that founded the restaurant and owned the lease allowed the current operators to escape the lease and shut down.
As for me, I went there a few times during my first two years of undergrad and my first trip through grad school, although it was more or less across town from my digs at UK. It wasn’t as often as I might have liked — I was generally dead broke in my Transy years and on a grad school budget later — but I always enjoyed the food and the experience, and Mrs. M and I went there a couple of times back when she was still Ms. W. And on those occasions when I might be driving on that side of town, there was something about the place that always made me smile.
As I mentioned the other day, a fair amount of the drive my friend Will and I took around Lexington last Friday consisted of “Yeah, that used to be…”, and reminders that most of our futures are now in the past. Now, the roster of used-to-bes is a little longer, and that’s the nature of things, I guess, but as I said above, I didn’t want it to pass unnoticed.
On a side note, another Lexington staple, Burgers Shakes, remains in operation. I went there when it was “Burgers 50c Shakes”, and I hope it lasts long enough for me to get there again.