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Our Grade-A Romantic Retreat

There used to be a place in Walburg called Joe's Place. It wasn't really a restaurant, more a pool hall with beer and some sausages from the Taylor Meat Company. In the evenings, the place was full of Moravian and German farming families. People talking, playing dominoes or pool, and enjoying a Falstaff or a Schlitz. My wife and I used to go there when we were in college in Georgetown. Joe was always there behind the bar wearing a faraway, bemused expression. The floors were worn wood. They covered the walls with free stuff the beer distributors would give to Joe: calendars, lighted signs, posters. The counter had things like pickled eggs, lighter flints, aspirin, candy, and handouts about the next dance at the Lutheran Church.

The only hot food Joe served was a sausage wrapped in Wonder Bread dabbed with mayonnaise. Hardly haute cuisine. Still, to us, it was a little bit of heaven. Southwestern University was a small school, around 800 students; privacy was nearly impossible to find. So we would go over to Joe's Place, get a corner table, and talk. We'd discuss the things we loved, plan for the future, and just stare dreamily in each other's eyes. Sometimes, we would get a .50¢ beer or a .65¢ sausage. Occasionally we'd dance to a waltz emanating from the jukebox or hazard a game of pool.

We got married and moved away. Every time we returned, we made a beeline for Joe's Place. Eventually, Joe died. His wife ran it for a few years, keeping it just like Joe did. Then she was gone. The new owners changed it. Now when we want a romantic night out, we go to Jean-Luc's or Zoot or Brio -- excellent food, quality service, and quiet atmosphere. But none hold the romance to us of the original Joe's Place. Joe's was a Grade-A retreat from the world. A snug and isolated place to love, full of sunny memories and hopeful dreams. Our most romantic restaurant.

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