Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Farewell, Cellar Anton's
My dear old friend Steve Semmler sent me a link to a news story from our hometown of Greensboro, NC on Monday- and it made me quite melancholy. The restaurant I knew as Cellar Anton's (but had more recently been simply Anton's) has closed its doors to business after some 53 years. Some restaurants are beloved because of the great food. Some stand out because of great service. Others are memorable because of great atmosphere and ambiance. Cellar Anton's had all of of those things. But none of them are the reason my heart is sad at its passing.
To understand my feelings for this fine restaurant, you have to go back to the mid 1970s. I don't recall how we first discovered the cellar, because it was not easy to find. It was in the basement of another popular restaurant called the Irving Park Delicatessen (IPD to the locals) and was located across town from the Guilford College community where we lived. They never advertised. They never had to. One of the things you knew each and every time you went to Cellar Anton's was that you would be standing in line to get a table, often a line that wound back up the stairs to the street level. But I never remember caring. It was always worth the wait.
Once you got in to the restaurant, it was very dark and candle lit. It felt like a cellar. The menu was primarily Italian food- and lots of it! Every entree came with a massive side of spaghetti, and I always left feeling like I might explode. The waiters in those days were all African-American men, and they were consummate professionals. When you were at Anton's, you were pampered. They didn't miss a thing. And if it happened to be a special occasion, then you were really in for a treat. Getting sung to by the wait staff was like being serenaded by the 3 Tenors. To a high school kid in Greesnboro, NC everything about the place just screamed "classy." And for a period of about 10 years, we were there quite often.
For me, Cellar Anton's was the home of the "first date." I really didn't have many "steady" girlfriends in high school, so I had lots of first dates- and I think I took them all to the cellar (sounds a little creepy when you say that way, doesn't it?). As I told my dear friend Tammy Foster when we were talking yesterday, I think I took some dates there who might not have even known we were on a date! And it never failed to impress them. I had a reputation for treating my dates very well (I needed all the help I could get!), and the restaurant was a big part of that. Plus, it was right across the street from the Janus Theaters, the first multiplex we had ever seen or heard of. Eight theaters in one place seemed like a dream at the time, and we spent many a weekend night having dinner and a movie right there off of Battleground Avenue.
As I got older, Anton's became a place to go for special occasions with groups of friends. We celebrated birthdays there. The Quaker Lake Camp staff would go on Saturday nights, our one night off during the summer months, and share life together yet one more time. I remember sharing an anniversary meal with Neal & Susie Thomas there; a birthday dinner with Butch & Barbara Moran (Barbara didn't know they sang happy birthday, and when they started she almost jumped out of her chair!); and many special times with the amazing group of friends I had back in the 1980s. My lovely wife Marilyn and I shared many a happy moment there. There is absolutely no memory of Cellar Anton's that doesn't make me smile.
I know that the Anton's that I remember had already been gone for a while, but at least it was still there. I was last there in 2006, and it had changed quite a bit. But today I choose to remember the restaurant that was such an amazing part of my past just as it was back in the day. I want to walk into the dark, dimly lit cellar, order some Veal Juliano (I seldom got anything else), watch the food descend from the kitchen upstairs on the little dumb-waiter. eat some cheesecake and let those amazing waiters spoil me and sing Happy Birthday. And I want to share the moment with so many people- so many friends, so many first dates from days gone by, and so many people I still love so much. I have no idea if Cellar Anton's will be missed by the citizens of Greensboro in 2013. But for old timers like me, a part of our past is gone. I am so blessed to know that the memories cannot be taken away so easily. And neither can the smiles...
Because of Jesus,