Hotel pamphlets at the roadside Marquette Welcome Center were advertising “welcome” rates of $72 and up. That didn’t sound very welcoming to us. We coasted through the little town of Marquette, wondering if we would have a chance to enjoy its Main Street lined with red stone buildings or if we would have to trudge forward another hundred miles or so to Houghton, our next destination, to find a more affordable place to stay. A budget motel just outside of town saved the day.
A man that looked like George Carlin smiled and answered the bell that sounded when I walked into the small lobby. We chatted about the weather, chilly even by a Michigander’s standards. I liked the looks of him and his place so I went out to collect Michael and our things. We went back inside to get a room and discuss dinner options downtown. Our host suggested Lake Superior Whitefish at the Vierling Restaurant and Marquette Harbor Brewery. I wasn’t exactly sure what Whitefish was or if it was something I wanted to eat, but Michael recalled seeing the place as we drove through town. The Vierling it is.
But not before a scenic drive to see the world’s largest wooden dome, aptly named the Superior Dome. The Dome is on the campus of Northern Michigan University and looks more like a runaway Pokemon character than a home for the University’s Sports Training Center. We snapped a few photos of this 14-story dome made of wood and went off to discover Whitefish and an Upper Peninsula phenomenon - the Friday night fish fry!
At the Vierling, $8.95 will get you all-you-can-eat fried Whitefish, french fries, homemade cole slaw and fresh bread. When I asked if the “all you can eat” applied only to the fish or the whole meal, our waitress Divine assured me if I couldn’t get enough of even the butter pats, she’d be happy to bring me more. Divine, by the way, is almost sure to win the Best Waitress/Waiter category of our May Month in Review awards.
The Vierling does not look like much from the street. Open the doors and you are instantly greeted by a spry gentleman with crazy hair and a clipboard. He looked almost distressed as he told us that he didn’t have any seating for us. Not a problem. We sat at the antique bar, had one of their homemade brews and took in the scenery. The restaurant’s literature names it as an 1883 saloon, restored in 1985 by its current owners. Our eyes were busy scanning the stained glass made beautiful by light coming in from the harbor windows when the host tapped Michael on the shoulder and said a table was ready. While we were at the bar, we watched him welcome every person by name and direct them to their reserved seats. He knew everyone but still found a spot for us.
Two helpings later, I concluded that I do like Whitefish, a fish that really doesn’t require more of an explanation other than it’s white and it’s a fish. I polished off my fish; Michael finished his Cajun chicken salad and my fries and we debated what we should do next. Back to the hotel already? How, when downtown seemed to be filling up with Friday night revelers? Is all of Marquette out tonight? We made a U-turn and went into JJ Flanigans, a little bar on the side of the road with band getting ready to play.
Flanigans was smaller than our hotel room. The atmosphere was beyond friendly. I knew we were at a great place when three women saved me from a role as William Tell’s target when I walked in front of the dartboard on the way to the bathroom. I told you the place was small. The band started almost as soon as we arrived and soon won the hearts of the crowd. The Breakers Blues Band, like the exterior of the Vierling, is not much to look at – two large men on vocals, guitar and saxophone; two much smaller men (boys? twins?) on guitar and bass and a young man sporting a Michigan Tech t-shirt on the drums. It was their first performance at Flanigans. The audience was impressed. By the second song, a couple was improvising a dance in the middle of the room. By the fourth or fifth song, there was no longer room to dance. As we were listening, the rectangle room had filled to capacity.
We were having a blast, talking with the women who had previously saved me from dart wielding men, sharing breadsticks with the table beside us and relishing the fact that we were not in our tent on this cold, damp Michigan night. Marquette was clearly the right decision. Not even the news channel on the TVs above the bar could dampen the mood. So often you can be at a place, in a situation that is so alive and still feel like an outside observer. Last night, we were two of many happy people in a smoky, smoky bar enjoying five Michigan men sing the blues.
Could this day in the Upper Peninsula possibly get any better? Back at the motel Michael fell fast asleep, leaving me in full control of the TV remote and 70 plus channels, which I relished for over an hour. Oh yes, yesterday was spectacular.
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