April, 1965. It was my 21st Birthday and I couldn't wait to join my college newspaper pals at the bar just off campus. Our editor bowed out, saying he'd rather see the basketball game.....but he'd take a rain check. Fast forward a few weeks and yes! he invited me for a drink at the Colony Room attached to Wayside Lanes. Here they served drinks on white table cloths; not the usual grab-your-own-beer in the bowling alley.
Thus was our first date....leading to marriage the following summer. But this is about Wayside.
Re-imagined, renovated and enlarged through the years, Wayside West closed it's doors forever October 25, 2015.
Wayside has been a Kalamazoo icon; run by the same family for over 50 years. Sure, there are negative comments and naysayers that say good riddance. But rather than focus on the whys; most folks over the age of 45 recall it with fond memories and nostalgia. At least that was the scene as the countdown began last Sunday. Still within walking distance of Western Michigan University, there wasn't a young college kid anywhere. Only couples my age, groups of guys my son's age. All were telling their story.
In the late 70's/early 80's, Wayside became all shiny, flashy neon....billing itself as a Dance Club with live bands, Barcaloungers, a pool room, video games and eventually; big screen TVs.
We hired babysitters, met our pals and danced the night away. It was a younger crowd...but we all kept going anyway.
We moved away a couple times, but visits back to see family and friends included lunch, dinner or a drink at Wayside.
By the 90's, it lost it's dance magic, but morphed into a sports bar with TV's everywhere and smaller, intimate sitting areas for singles. Great food was always a given through the years. Hot sub sandwiches, pizza, French dip and more recently, smaller portioned appetizers to share.
It became the lunch time hangout for area fire and police officers; earning Wayside the nickname, Station 8. This was a place where they knew your name. The long time owners and wait staff became family. Both our kids were in college by now and yep....they hung out here too! Everyone called it 'their place.' All you had to say was "I'll be in town, let's meet!" No need to say where.
As the years went by, society became trend conscious and breweries and ale houses quickly rose, Wayside reinvented itself once again with 64 Taps on the marquee. There were daily specials on tap and crowds continued to gather for big game weekends; but the venue was not only aging, it had become too big for today's population who prefer cozy pub crawls and brewery visits.
Retired but still coming back to Kalamazoo several times a year, we'd make a point to eat here. Drink....not so much. Even in the middle of the day, middle of winter, there'd still be familiar faces.When my husband passed away a few years ago, we held a service here in town. Afterward, we honored him by going to Wayside with our extended family. So many of us; we took over the top floor!
My son and his family moved back to Kalamazoo this summer, and I followed soon after. Since he and his wife had their first date here also, Wayside became our go-to celebration place. We cheered our arrivals when we got to town! We celebrated each of us getting a job! When they closed on their new house, we were here. When I finally settled in my new home....off to Wayside. And then suddenly....with only 24 hours notice to both the public and staff....the doors were closing for good! Sold to a developer who will likely raze the building and lease space in a new one.
Sad time for us older folks.....how can a building cause grief? How can there be so many memories in one place? We'll always have these memories...they're in our hearts. But it was a painful weekend as we paid our respects both days. I had a Margarita at 2:00 in the afternoon and chomped down pizza as I shared stories with the fellow next to me at the bar. He said. "so sad, I've been coming here for 42 years!" to which I replied, "I've been coming for 50! " Well, you're older than I am" he said as we laughed through our tears. My son was right there with me, reminiscing and telling me tales from his days on campus I'd never heard before! My daughter sent texts remembering her Wayside happy hours; pleased that we were here to say goodbye.
It felt good to be a part of the closing. It was comforting....having that last drink. Hearing other people share their memories and funny stories. There was a connection, a feeling that we'd been part of something wonderful. We truly had....Cheers!