Thursday, December 24, 2020

Bye bye BK Lounge

Burger King's creepy mascot

     Food is emotional.
     That's obvious. Every bite wrapped in taste and memory, smell and perception. Satisfying a craving older than language, older than fire, broader than humanity, felt by every creature, from flea to vole, hawk to whale.
    Yet for some reason, as obvious as that is, as much as I've not only eaten, but thought about eating, talked about it, wrote about it, the food/emotion link didn't really stand up and wave until I read that the Burger King in Evanston has closed permanently. 
     Because I felt nothing.
      Which is odd for several reasons. The food at McDonald's is crap, generally, but I nevertheless have fond feelings toward the chain, despite its way creepy mascot, Ronald. A bond stretching back to the red and white tile buildings that had nowhere to sit (okay, a small alcove, if 50 year old memory series, that people never actually used). I have complex associations with the yellow paper that wraps McDonald's cheeseburgers, and every year or three I find myself wanting one—the way you taste that pickle when you bite into it. Somehow the pickle is key, the ketchup. The cheeseburger itself is just the vehicle.
     Every few years, I think, "I'd like a McDonald's cheeseburger." Despite being sober. And I have to actively remind myself of that grotesque moment after you've eaten something  from McDonald's, and your body shudders with the violation done to it, and you feel that oily residue on your teeth, and that McDonald's smell, the same smell that invades every corner of a Metra car the moment someone opens a McDonald's bag, started to percolate out your pores. I think it's the grease.
     Burger King is far better, food-wise. Flame-broiled. Real lettuce. Its own even more horrifying mascot. Yet Burger King is an eternal also-ran, Pepsi to McDonald's Coke. I might have to bat away temptation to patronize McDonald's every few years, but I never, ever think: "We should go to Burger King." It never crosses my mind, and were it to vanish, I would never notice it was gone, the way you typically never wonder what happened to Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips. The last Burger King I ate in was seven years ago, because I happened to be in a car with someone who stopped at Burger King to eat as we were driving to the UP.
    Even stranger. I have very specific memories of that Burger King in Evanston, closed permanently due to the pandemic after 44 years in business. "The BK Lounge" we called it, an undergraduate stab at ... what? Hipness I suppose.
     I lived for two years directly across the street, 1725 Orrington Avenue, at what was then the Northwestern Apartments, a vast 600 student freshman hive. The building is still there, but it's the McManus Center, housing Kellogg School of Management students and their families.  Once upon a time, reporters would have hung out, interviewing people going in and out of the center about their views of Burger King closing. But nobody has the staff or the time or the inclination anymore, and there's a pandemic going on, and even the Daily Northwestern didn't bother. Nor did it track down anyone with memories of the place.
     Here, I'll do your legwork for you, and contribute mine, for what it's worth.
     My first day at college, in 1978. My family drove in from Berea, Ohio. We unloaded my boxes of records and stereo system and big ass speakers and steamer trunk. Then it was time for lunch, and we trooped across the street to Burger King.
     Here's the memory: we get our food—burgers, fries, soft drinks, not much else you could get there back then. Whoppers, I suppose. And my little brother is fussing with his ketchup packet, for the fries, and both squeezes and tears it at the same moment, projecting a splurt of red ketchup across my sternum.
    And I remember looking down at the splash, with dumb bovine incomprehension, then up at him, and then off to the side, as if looking for the studio audience. I wasn't mad. I wasn't even particularly surprised. It was almost as if I had expected this, or something like it, and now it had occurred. The reaction was more a "So this is how it's going to be, eh?" resignation. Which was apt, because that was indeed about how it went. 

16 comments:

  1. Agree with you about McDonalds food, but once...I was gone all day and literally didn't eat from like 10am to almost midnight when I was going home. I thought, shit, there's a Mickey Ds right down the street from me, I'll grab something because I was so hungry. I got a Big Mac, was home in 2 minutes and opened the box. It was almost like the golden light coming from the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. This magnificent burger that looked exactly like very ad you've seen showing the Big Mac. Not all squished flat, warm fluffy bun, hot burger, crisp lettuce and tomato, perfect amount of sauce. I almost couldn't eat it, it was so pretty.

    It never happened again. Maybe it was all a dream?

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  2. For decades, until several years ago, if you wanted to take out food from that Orrington St. BK, they gave you the bags, because some weird Evanston law prevented the employees from bagging your food.
    Thankfully, that foolishness ended!

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  3. Actually, the BK Impossible Burger isn’t too bad. Driving to Chicago to visit or son our criteria for stopping was whether or not there was a BK at that exit. Trying to avoid eating meat, this Burger did the trick.

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  4. I still have fond memories of the Whaler - a BK fish sandwich they stopped making decades ago. It was really big and good.

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  5. If you are a professional driver and need a quick meal, a McDonalds hamburger is least likely to drip on your shirt. Otherwise, there is always a better option.

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  6. Culver's is a cut above for a once in a while taste.

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  7. Arthur Treacher‘s fish and chips went away because the fish got too expensive. Some sort of acrimony between Iceland and other nearby fishing countries. I heard that on a podcast

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  8. All I can say is that when I lost my appetite after surgery a few years ago, my first meal on the way home from the hospital consisted of 4 White Castles and fries. It was better than filet mignon.

    john

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  9. Nope. I'm a Mickey D's guy through and through. Have not been inside a Burger King in decades. There's no accounting for taste. Been a Mickey D's guy since I was eight, when the second-earliest franchise in the Midwest, if not the world (the very first one was in Des Plaines), opened at Dempster and Skokie Blvd. It's still there, having been enlarged and rebuilt several times over the last sixty years.

    I remember sitting in the back seat of our baby-sitter's '49 Ford and snarfing down fifteen-cent burgers and fries--and thinking: "These are so much better than Henry's or Richard's"...two long-gone Chicago-area drive-in chains that survived until the early Sixties. Both had franchises on Lincoln Avenue, near the present-day site of the Lincolnwood Lou Malnati's.

    The Mc Donald's on Dempster would send me and my kid sister postcards on our birthdays, good for free burgers. They also sent one to our sibling, Lucy, who was actually Lucky...our dog. If one of my parents didn't think up that scam, then it had to be my sister.

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    1. My Dad would take us to a dentist in Evanston, Chester Oseda, circa 1960. On the way home he would stop at a McDonalds. Not the Waukegan Rd. Glenview store, had to be your Dempster location. I was a picky eater, didn't like the onions but loved the fresh cut fries. They lost their best product when they went to frozen. I'd stand on that tiled bench and watch them manuever the wall of fry baskets.

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  10. As a kid, circa 1970, the Burger King and McDonald's were next to each other. You could sit down inside the Burger King but had to eat in your car at the McDonald's. So me and Grandma always went for the Burger King. Food much better. But McDonald's always seems to me like the great American Story, if you take a turd and dress it up and market it well, you can be successful. Quality is not always the most important thing. But everyone agrees that Burger King mascot is creepy.

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  11. Ah, that last paragraph. That's gold, Jerry, gold!

    It's hard to even remember now; it's been far longer for me since I've been in a BK, but I guess I'd have to say that the Whopper was my favorite fast-food creation. No mayo or cheese, both of which I consider unnecessary in a beefy assemblage. When thinking of BK or McD's I gotta say their respective mascots have made no impact on my estimation of them. They're surely both creepy, however.

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    1. My granddaughter got even with Ronald a few years ago by puking up the greasissimos hash browns all over his big yellow feet at 64th & Cicero. Needless to say, we never went back there again.

      john

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  12. So, Neil, is today's photo from your house, or Au Cheval, perhaps?

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    1. Very good! Au Cheval indeed. You know your stuff!

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  13. It's no doubt due less to coincidence and more to competition and zoning laws, but there are plenty of McDonald's next door to Burger Kings (and a KFC beyond that). I sometimes find myself sitting in my car at our McDonald's in town, munching my Sausage McMuffin and staring at the Burger King next door, wondering who goes there. Evidently someone does, as they have been side-by-side for decades, each getting an extensive remodeling in recent years (in McDonald's case, replacing the entire building). (...and yes, Burger King did have Whoppers in the 1970s, as one popular T-shirt of that era bore a "Home of the Whopper" logo with, um, a large arrow pointing downward. College humor.)

    I see them not so much for dining as for refueling, in that I know what I want before I go there, I know what it will taste like when I buy it, and then I will be on my way to more important matters of the day.

    So that's for refueling. For pure recreational enjoyment of the fast-food menu, with actual flavor to look forward to, we'll go the extra distance to find Culver's. Their double cheeseburgers are somehow engineered to give a maximum burst of flavor from every ingredient -- tomato, raw onion... -- and despite the confusing menu, and even if no one, employees included, can quite explain the difference between a ButterBurger and a Culver's Deluxe, it's safe to say that you will thoroughly enjoy it, even if you can't remember later on which one you ordered. Best to save your receipt.

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