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Monday, August 17, 2015

Summer of '75 at the Rathskeller Inn

They say summer memories are the best. I know some of mine are. Maybe that's because summer is when we experience the bulk of our great adventures as we're growing up. Then again, maybe it's a whole lot more complicated than that. I digress.

Forty years ago this month, I was finishing up a summer-long stint as a bartender at the Rathskeller Inn in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. This was my first and only bar job. I was only 19 and had just completed my freshmen year at Eastern Washington University. The job was strictly a summer gig. I planned to return to school at Washington State University in the fall.

How could I work as a bartender at that age? Because the legal drinking age in Idaho at the time was 19. That was a handy law during high school, when it was easy enough to pass for legal. Not that I ever abused the law. Perish the thought. But some of my friends did. The legal age was raised to 21 in 1987, under pressure from the Feds.

For its part, the Rathskeller Inn was a North Idaho institution by 1975. It opened in 1962 and became a wildly popular destination for young adults of that era. "Rats," as it was affectionately known, was a beer and dance hall that featured live music on weekends. The place attracted quite a few big name Northwest bands, including Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Cascades.

The luster was fading a bit by 1975. We had big, boisterous crowds some weekends, but it was sometimes pretty dead. Thanks largely to the drinking age, carloads of kids rumbled over from Spokane, about 25 miles west. We also got a fair number of Canadians, who were sometimes confused by American money that lacked colors to help distinguish the value of bills.

Of course, there were locals, too. In those days, Coeur d'Alene's economy was based on mining and timber. It was a quaint town, not a tourist trap like it is now. There was a lumber mill in the area now occupied by The Resort Golf Course. If you got lucky, you might snag an escaped log to use for burling practice at Sanders Beach. I did on many occasions.

The Rathskeller clientele was not too particular about its beer...standard operating procedure at the time. We mostly served pitchers of Lucky Lager and Budweiser. My bartending partner and I got to where we could pour four pitchers at a time when it got busy and thirsts were heavy. I really have no specific recollection of how we did it, only that we did.

There was no craft beer. Coeur d'Alene eventually had T.W. Fischer's (founded 1987), which became Coeur d'Alene Brewing around 2000 and operated until it lost its lease in 2010. If you wanted to get fancy in 1975, you would order long-neck bottles of Coors or Bud. Big shots did that. Visiting "connoisseurs" from Canada often complained about the "shitty" American swill and ordered red beer, aka beer mixed with tomato juice. In retrospect, that wasn't such a bad idea.

One of my vivid memories is of our bouncer, a borderline psychopath who would get on the PA at closing time and bark: "Time to pick it up and pack it out. On your feet and into the street!" He wasn't above brandishing a small pistol to get the desired results. Typically, he announced his arrival at after hours parties by firing a shot or two into the air. Memorable stuff.

But there were positive vibes, too. The Rathskeller, in 1975, was run by Jackie George. Her mother Anna founded the business and later opened a second Rathskeller in Moscow, Idaho. Anna passed away in 1990. The thing is, Anna and her daughters, Jackie and Lolita, ran these businesses for many years. In a male-dominated industry, they were light years ahead of their time.

The soundtrack of that summer remains indelibly etched in my sonic memory. When live music wasn't playing in the hall, the jukebox was. And we all had our own records for late night listening. Some of the albums: Steely Dan's Katy Lied; Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks; Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic; the Eagles' One of These Nights.

When I left the Rathskeller at the end of the summer, it was tough saying goodbye to the folks I had worked with. I was invited to work at the Rathskeller in Moscow, about 10 miles from WSU. Somehow I never followed up on that. I guess I figured the late nights wouldn't mix very well with school work. As if school work was a huge priority. Oh well.

Looking through what I can find online, it appears Coeur d'Alene's Rathskeller closed in 1982. Times had changed. State Line, Idaho, much closer to Spokane, had cleaned up and improved its night life. But for much of the 20 years between 1962 and 1982, the Rathskeller Inn had been the destination of choice. Not to mention my first exposure to the beer industry.

It seems like a lifetime ago...because it was.

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