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Saying goodbye to a tradition, Ann Arbor's Parthenon Restaurant closes

The beloved gyro sandwich.
George Ruiz
The beloved gyro sandwich.

Ann Arbor’s Parthenon Restaurant closed last week after almost 40 years at the corner of Main and Liberty. 

For me, it marked more than the passing of a favorite spot, but the end of a time-honored ritual for the guys. 

We filed in, and walked to our favorite table in the back.

A little warmer, and we’d sit outside, but it was still March, so whatya gonna do?

The owners and waiters nodded. They’ve seen us more than a hundred times.BW and I started coming here in the fall of our sophomore year in high school.  We both ran cross-country – a near-death experience – but that meant we could eat anything, and not gain a pound.  For us, that meant a jumbo coke, a basket of fries, and two gyros -- each. 

We’ve since added a few friends from our high school days: Scotty, a hockey teammate of mine; TP, the tennis captain; Sevvie, a soccer star; and Barney, whom I was nice enough to drive to practice every day, so he could take my job.  I was cool like that.  

Women never join us, but it’s not because they’re not welcome. 

Our wives and fiancés and girlfriends all wonder what we talk about at these lunches, until they visit and realize we’re morons.

They never ask again. 

We have no need for menus, but no need for two gyros each, anymore, either.  The lightweights get salads, and we all get gyros.  TP once made the mistake of looking at the menu AND ordering a shish-ka-bob – who knew they even made those? – for which he is still roundly chastised.   By me. 

The highlight, always, is the saganaki.

The waiters know their tips are directly proportional to the height of the flame, so they pour on the brandy accordingly.

The poor guy lights it, it goes “whooof!” and creates a mini mushroom cloud.  I know a few waiters who no longer have eyebrows.

We still debate the merits of Tappan Junior High versus Clague, which is – and I say this with utter journalistic objectivity – the greatest junior high school of all time.

The Tappan guys do have an ace: they played with quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who became the Big Ten’s MVP, an NFL star, and the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach.  BW and TP were his tailbacks, later replaced by NFL Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Marshall Faulk. 

We can still recount football, baseball and basketball games we played against each other– the most pointless conversation anywhere in town. 

Well, almost.  We also repeat stories so many times, everybody at the table can finish them, like an ancient tribe passing on its oral traditions.

Take the homecoming queen who rejected both Scotty and BW in the same month.  Scotty was kissing her on her front step when – pardon me in advance – he farted.

“Could she hear it?” we asked.

“I could,” he said.  “And my ears were just four inches from hers.”

A few weeks later, BW dropped her off, and didn’t make any moves.  But when he tried to drive away, he got stuck in the snow and had to ring her doorbell and ask her to come help dig him out – thereby erasing any question whatsoever that that was, indeed, their last date. 

The stories go on and on, and in this way, we share our innermost feelings. 

The baskets get removed, the bill comes, and it’s time for us to say goodbye – not just to each other, but to this old friend, the Parthenon, forever. 

We could go somewhere else, and I suppose we’ll have to.

But how are we going to find a place that plays lyre music and ignites dairy products?

There are fancier restaurants just down the street – but none will be more comfortable. 

So, no.  Wives and girlfriends, you’re not missing out on anything.

But we will.

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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