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Jon Mark Beilue column - Posted December 23, 2016 9:14 a.m.
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Artwork by Andy Chase Cundiff

Oh, for some cheesey enchiladas at Paradise Too

The shaggy growth along Hastings on Georgia Street even before it closed was enough to know the time was near. So were 90 percent off sales and the selling of fixtures.

The Hastings franchise – including the three stores in Amarillo – was no more as of late October. I’ve made my peace with the demise of the iconic Amarillo entertainment franchise, but darned if I don’t miss it sometimes.

It’s hard to come up with another place to waste an hour. It was easy to get lost in there, browsing and forgetting about the world for a while.

Even just the other day, when wanting to get a couple of new CDs for a holiday trip, the go-to place used to be a quick trip to Hastings. Now? Like everything else that’s sold in the world, that meant a trip to Wal-Mart.

Oh, Hastings, there are times I miss you. You added to the Amarillo character. But other things have come and gone, too, places that added to the Amarillo flavor. Life goes on, and they get filed away in the crevices of the past.

Yet these long-gone places do strike a nostalgic chord when the time is right. Places like:

Paradise Too. I drive by what used to be the little Mexican food restaurant on 10th Avenue almost daily on the way to work. If I’m hungry, it makes me ache for that place that was just a hop, skip and jump from the newspaper.

At one time, it was the best Mexican food place in Amarillo, and, just like that, almost overnight, it was a bar.

The place had no windows, and was like Carlsbad Caverns until my eyes adjusted. I’d trip over two chairs getting to my table, but it was worth it. It had the hottest plates and the cheesiest enchiladas.

Homeland. This one is more for my wife, who loved the convenience of her favorite grocery store. She knew where everything was, could zip in and out with no parking lot hassles, and be on her merry way.

Correction: She never zips in and out of any grocery store, but she just liked the place. Judging from the receipts from Market Street, however, she’s adjusted quite nicely.

Char-Kel. No one yet has been able to replicate that mouth-watering charcoal taste of a Char-Kel hamburger. That place on Georgia was a no-frills drive-thru that I unfortunately took for granted until it was gone.

A double-meat hamburger, fries and a large cherry lime – it was goodness in a plain white paper sack. That kind of meal was worth being fat.

Esquire Theater. It sat there on the corner of Washington and I-40. With the downtown State and Paramount gone, the Esquire was the last of the old-time one-screen balcony theaters that went by a regal name.

It was my parents’ favorite theater because they regularly showed G-rated movies. I saw every Walt Disney movie known to man, including “The Love Bug” and its 27 sequels and spin-offs.

There’s something about a one-screener that made viewing more of an event. If I were king of the world, I would demand every city have one balcony theater that also showed a cartoon. The world would be a better place.

Gardski’s Loft. This was the go-to after-work place beginning in the 1980s for the sports department back when we were all single and worked nights. A frozen margarita sure went down easily on a warm summer night at a table full of sportswriters looking to unwind.

Gardski’s was where I took my wife on our first date. I opted not for the usual Old Fashioned with Cheese, but soft tacos. Sandy ordered peasant soup. Peasant soup? Who orders that?

She said later she was nervous, and I thought later she was just trying to keep the tab down. Either way, I felt a little sorry for her and the rest is history.

It must be said that Victor Leal and Leal’s Mexican Restaurant have made a very fine replacement – just can’t quite match the memories.

Putt-Putt Golf. Some may be surprised to know there once were 36 holes of miniature golf fun on Western Street. It was a great place for two competitive people to get into an argument and later slam the car door in a huff.

Looking for a way to burn off some energy of your young kids and friends? Haul them to Putt-Putt and pray that no one got nailed in the face with a backswing.

Yeah, you got your miniature golf at Wonderland Park, but this was the official style course used by the Professional Putters Association.

So, in one day, I could grab lunch at Char-Kel, swing by Hastings, pick up a few things at Homeland, play a round of Putt-Putt, have dinner at Paradise Too, catch a movie at the Esquire, and have a nightcap at Gardski’s.

And, now, I can’t do any of them. Waaaah.

by Jon Mark Beilue

Jon Mark Beilue is an award-winning columnist for AGN Media. He can be reached at jon.beilue@amarillo.com or (806) 345-3318.
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