On the front page of the Nov. 24, 1983 edition of the Pilot Independent newspaper, in bold, Arial, #96 font, and in true, journalistic alliteration, were the words, "The Bar Was Badly Burned" and under the headline were photographs of the gallant and heroic firemen, who did their very best to save the very popular "Goalpost Eating & Drinking Emporium."
It was true, the bar was badly burned, but it was much more than simply a bar! It truly was an emporium! To use the slogan of this Lake Time Magazine, it was more than a bar - it was a community, it was a state of mind!
It was the place where Jim Klobuchar, sports writer from the Minneapolis Tribune, chose to give his 100 bicyclers a "pop and watermelon break" on their trek through northern Minnesota. It was the place where Ted Brown, Hall of Fame running back from the Minnesota Vikings, chose to stop to have his picture taken with a couple of the waitresses who routinely dressed as referees with their striped blouses and Ted with his big friendly smile. It was the place where the St. Paul Winter Carnival Vulcans and the Winnipeg Bagpipers chose to display their talents. It was the place where a hiker walking across the entire United States with six newborn puppies in his backpack, chose to dine and spend the night. It was the place where TV Channel 12 chose to host their annual appreciation dinner for their advertisers. It was the place where Walker Lions Club, Walker Industries, Leech Lake Association, Cass County Cancer Society, and the Barbershoppers chose to hold their regular meetings. The place rang from the rafters when the Barbershoppers belted out their old songs! It was the place where many newlyweds chose to begin their lives together with a reception of fun and fellowship in a football atmosphere.
Yes, it was more than a bar! It was something different! The rooms were labeled "Concession Stand," where one could eat free peanuts and throw the shells on the floor; the "Locker Room," where one could close the folding doors and meet in private; the "Coach's Room," where there was no smoking and the room was bedecked with wicker furniture, plants, and curtains on the windows.
Yes, it was something different! The menu didn't offer a plain ordinary hamburger, it offered a "Half-back" if you wanted only one paddy and a "Full-back" if you wanted two! The restrooms didn't offer the customary "Ladies" and "Men" signs, instead it displayed the words, "Cheerleaders" and "Jocks." Surprisingly, this confused many a would-be occupant as to where he or she was to enter! The help wore striped shirts, carried whistles around their necks, and were called at with, "Hey ref, could I have another beer please?" The dance floor resembled a football field complete with yard markers, end zones, and a big logo in the middle. Water jugs with logos from each Big Ten school hung from the rafters and Minnesota Viking scatter rugs lay on the floors. The walls were adorned with pictures of every Walker Warrior that frolicked on the gridiron of the old Walker High School, and the emporium recognized the present high school athletes with appreciation parties for their games - win or lose.
Yes, it was more than a bar! As people came, passed through the emporium, and met on the 50-yard line, fun and fellowship on a first-name basis prevailed, and their names were permanently engraved on their souvenir mugs that hung in the membership rack of the "Quarterback Club," but more importantly, permanently engraved in all their memories. One of the rooms inside had a huge dance floor, which resembled a football field with green tile and white lines and yard markers. Every night except Sunday, there was live music for the dancer's pleasure. On Sundays, the Goalpost Sunday Dinner Theater was held, when the frenzied disco atmosphere gave way to a much more subdued atmosphere of white linen and flower-bedecked, dinner tables. On the outside of the emporium, there was a large patio, which also resembled a football field with green grass and white lines with yard markers.
All this began only two years prior to the fire when Chase Hotel guru Jim Aletto barged into my dental office and, without any other salutation, authoritatively remarked, "You and I should go into the bar business?"
Although I was busy with a dental patient, I could not help but put my mirror and explorer down on the bracket table and ask, "Why do you say that?"
"The Walker Municipal Liquor Store is for sale! I would like to buy it and put in a sports bar, but I need somebody like you with an imagination to create something different. We can go 50-50!"
On New Year's Eve, about 300 people brought in the new year of 1981 at the Goalpost Eating & Drinking Emporium in Walker, Minnesota and the rest is history.
After the bar was badly burned, Jim Aletto also sold his Chase Hotel and decided to retire from the hotel and restaurant business. Our family purchased Jim's share and spun our wheels for a couple of years with the "Walker 1896 Mini-Mall" upstairs and the "Goalpost" downstairs. However, when brothers Franz and Theo expressed an interest in the building and the old restaurant business, they took over and changed the name to "Benson's Eating & Drinking Emporium," named after the maiden name of their mother. Instead of the atmosphere being more of a sports bar, it now concentrates on the history of the area, with huge photographs of the early days of Walker and the Battle of Sugar Point, with the highlight of the motif and ambiance being the restoration of old boats and canoes that once churned the waters of Leech Lake and now serve as tables for the many customers. Most everybody patronizes Benson's for the best pizza in northern Minnesota, but their soups, sandwiches, and salads are also to die for! And most importantly, the friendly atmosphere, reminiscent of the old Goalpost, still exists and it is still, after nearly 38 years, truly an emporium, rather than simply a bar!