THE ROUND TABLE
When St. Augustine Ceased Being a Small Town
Tangerine, she is all they claim
With her eyes of night and lips as bright as flame
Tangerine, when she dances by,
senoritas stare and caballeros sigh
And I’ve seen toasts to Tangerine
Raised in every bar across the Argentine
Yes, she has them all on the run,
But her heart belongs to just one
Her heart belongs to Tangerine
This is the first installment in a series of articles that Historic City News has been fortunate to receive permission to publish; taken from a collection of nostalgic memories recorded by Geoffrey B. Dobson.
That song brings back memories of Jack Wardell’s restaurant at the corner of Marine Street and Artillery Lane, behind Potter’s Museum. Wardell’s is gone now. Potter’s has moved.
Several years ago, the writer ran into Jake Garris’s kid, no longer a kid, at St. Johns Foods. He was getting clams for Minorcan clam chowder, proper clam chowder made with datil peppers and bacon, chowder with a bite. Steve learned to make the chowder from his dad who ran the Seagull in Lighthouse Park.
The Seagull is also gone, torn down in the name of progress with a promise that it would be replaced. The replacement has been turned into private club.
Gone also are McCartney’s in the Lyon Building and the St. George Pharmacy (not really a pharmacy but more of a lunch counter and coffee shop with a communal table in the back) where the Bunnery is now located.
The passing of Wardell’s (At the time it was actually called “Captain Jack’s. In an earlier incarnation, it was known as the “Blue Bay Cafe”) on Marine Street and the passing of the Seagull, McCartney’s and the Pharmacy marked the transformation of St. Augustine from a small town to a larger city.
Of course, Jack reopened in Alexander’s on Anastasia Boulevard, but it wasn’t the same. Jack died at the VA hospital in Gainesville in 1989. For a while, the Anastasia Blvd. location was carried on by his son.
Every small county seat has, or maybe more properly had, a restaurant where there was a communal table at which local business persons and the “courthouse gang” would have morning coffee or lunch and join in good comradeship.
In Gainesville, it was Tim’s on the square. Tim’s has been torn down and replaced by a parking lot. But for that matter the Square is gone, occupied now by the “New Courthouse.” The New Courthouse is now known as the “Old Courthouse,” replaced by yet a newer more magnificent pile two blocks to the east.
In Bronson, the “gang” ate at Buren Brice’s sawmill. Buren wanted a place to eat and, thus, opened a café at his sawmill which made wooden beverage crates. In DeFuniak Springs, the gang ate at the bus station across the street from the courthouse. In Madison, it was the hotel.
Such cafes and restaurants were not limited to Florida. In Jackson, Wyo., there were Kay’s Blue Bell and Moore’s. In Evanston, it was Freeman’s and in Sundance there was the Elkhorn Cafe.
All featured local, plain cooking, and all are gone. A regular “special” at Wardell’s was chipped beef, good old-fashioned Army “S. O. S.”
At Captain Jack’s, in the corner was the “Round Table” which was reserved for the gang. The gang was not really a courthouse gang in the derogatory sense. The only ones from the Courthouse itself who ate there were one county judge and the clerk.
The clerk was unfortunately the target of many good-natured barbs and, thus, did not come regularly. Ultimately, however, some irresistible impulse would overtake the clerk and he would return, only again to become a victim of more barbs.
Various lawyers would come. Four of them were satirized in a book written by a legal secretary with a sharp wit but poor grammar. Just about everybody who counted in town was libeled, but it was funny. She distinguished two brothers who practiced law together in the Exchange Bank Building (now the Wachovia Bank Building) by noting that one of the two brothers had “beady eyes.” She neglected to say which brother had the beady eyes. It was therefore the subject of endless debate. Another lawyer surfed. She indicated that he had no fear of sharks because of “professional courtesy.” The books were sold at the flea market north of town. Since no one wanted the authoress to know that they had purchased the book, arrangements were made for the then proprietor of the trailer trains, a regular at the Round Table, to go out to the market and acquire copies.
Others who came included Tommy Mickler. Writer’s note: Mickler is pronounced “Mike-ler” not “Mick-ler.” Tommy loved catsup. He put catsup on everything, so much that the standing joke was that Tommy ordered it by the 50 gallon drum just as he did the kerosene for his stove.
Another at the Round Table was David Parker. Parker found a certain fascination in the more pedantic features of the law.
And there was Paul Martz who served for a short time as mayor. He decided that it would be useful in promoting the town, that there be authorized a special tax charged on customers of resort type businesses. This required legislative action. Dutifully, the then city attorney drafted the legislation which the local representative, also a member of the Round Table, introduced. It created a Municipal Area Resort Tax Zone. No one noticed that the first letter of each word in the name of the zone spelled out the mayor’s name. The beer lobby from Volusia County shot down the legislation.
The same waitress always served the table. She had an uncanny knack at being able to create a dish that was not on the menu if so desired. If one wanted a reuben sandwich, but the restaurant had no pastrami nor sauerkraut, she would suggest grilled ham with sliced Kosher dill pickles with Russian dressing grilled on rye. It tastes amazingly like a reuben.
At the Round Table, all were charged the same regardless of what they ordered if within reason. At the end of the meal, all would flip quarters to see who paid, odd men out until the last flip when odd man paid.
When Wardell closed, the gang moved to McCartney’s. On the wall was a sailfish. Ultimately, the sailfish was removed. Over the years, the walls, except under the fish, had darkened either with cigarette smoke or grease, no one knew which. Thus, when the fish was removed, his ghost remained as a perfect silhouette.
McCartney’s closed and a portion of the gang moved on to the St. George Pharmacy, famous for its sausage pilau (pronounced “per-loo”) served on Fridays. One day, the special was meat loaf. The writer asked what the soft, black objects in the meat loaf were. They used that day leftover raisin bread for the breading.
Tommy, David, and Paul have gone to meet their Maker. Of the two lawyers from the Exchange Bank Building one is now gone, the other retired. Wardell’s, McCartney’s, and the Pharmacy have all closed.
A common feature of all the restaurants was simple, plain, local cooking, S. O. S., pilau, meat loaf. The food did not come from some giant commissary.
In distant Jackson, Wyo., Moore’s served “coon fried steak.” Moore’s has been replaced by a trendy restaurant serving wonton wrapped goat cheese with a raspberry glace. In our homogenized society, sausage pilau is no longer on menus, the coon fried steak is gone, and S. O. S is rarely seen.
Wardell’s had background music consisting of a looped tape of Lenny Dee on the Hammond. One song was “Tangerine, Toast of the Argentine.” Oh, gaud, I miss the pilau, the S. O. S., and the meat loaf.
Photo credit: Submitted by Geoffrey B. Dobson
Geoff Dobson, a St Augustine resident for the past 32 years, is a western and Florida history writer and a former president of the St. Augustine Historical Society. Before his parents moved to Florida, his father was a Black Angus cattleman. Geoff has written extensively on Wyoming history (“Wyoming Tales and Trails”). When Geoff was in high school, his family lived in the cattle country of eastern Sarasota County. The family spread, which his parents called “Wild Cat Slough,” was reachable only by a pair of ruts over the sand hills and through a snake and gator infested slough. Now, it is an area of four-lane roads, expensive subdivisions, shopping centers, and office parks. . His undergraduate degree is in history. Geoff received his post-graduate degree from the University of Florida. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org