By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
It was pushing 11 a.m. but there were still a few tables filled at the Post Café. "What we have here is an unlimited coffeepot," said Bill Lockhart, commander of American Legion Post 106, which operates the café. "We're not crushed for seating. Other restaurants want to hurry up and get you out because they need that table back. We're not like that. You can come in here and spend two hours."
Think “Legion post” and what probably does come to mind is veterans sitting around swapping stories in a comfortably shabby, preternaturally male setting – think folding chairs, beanbag ashtrays, possibly a spittoon.
That's why, for a reporter of the female persuasion, the Post Café was such a nice surprise. The veterans of 106 have partitioned off and remodeled the south end of their building on Highway 11 North, transforming it into a girl-friendly place complete with sunbeams, snowy white tablecloths, Wi-Fi and not a cuspidor in sight.
The Post Café maintains its soldierly ambiance with "Support Our Troops" plaques and a menu featuring a couple of manly, military-named specials like "The General," steak and eggs with the works for $8.50, and "The Lieutenant," a humbler corned-beef-hash-and-eggs meal for $6.50. Lockhart is threatening to add "The Draft Dodger," a cornflakes-and-skim-milk affair, at any moment.
But the café's basic offering is "The Post Breakfast," a unisex morning feast of two eggs any style, bacon or sausage, hash brown casserole or grits, and choice of biscuits or bread all for $5. What's not to like?
Lockhart says the restaurant has its faithful regulars. Pointing to one long, cafeteria-style table, he explains that this is what’s called “the Liars’ Table.” “That fills up pretty fast,” he said. “And then the little double table there is the Stretching the Truth table.”
But he says the café is still not seeing the kind of business it would like, and he thinks that's because a lot of people may not have heard of it yet. "We haven't even scratched our customer base yet," he said. "It's all word of mouth."
Lockhart points out that the Post Café is not really all that new anymore. The Post's food preparation capabilities came into the limelight after April 27's devastating tornados, when the vets threw the doors open for a free 24-hour buffet for storm victims and rescue workers. Those efforts, parenthetically, probably had some role in the Dade Chamber of Commerce's decision to name Lockhart its Citizen of the Year this summer.
But the Post Café actually opened for business last February, and this Valentine's Day marks its first anniversary.
The café opens at 6 a.m. seven days a week, serving breakfast until 11 a.m. It is a nonprofit organization, with all profits going to veterans' programs, and Lockhart wants the public to know that 90 percent of those dollars stay right here in the community.
Lockhart also reminds the public the café is not just about breakfast: it opens as well on Monday evenings for Gospel Night, Thursday evening for Pickin' at the Post, and Friday and Saturday nights for bingo.
Thursday through Saturday, the café offers snack-bar-type fare of the burger-dog-and-beans variety, but for Gospel Night it more commonly offers a real meat-and-three. "Sometimes it's a complete Thanksgiving dinner, or it might be meatloaf or it might be pork chops," said Lockhart. "No dishes at home that night."
In addition to a supper out, Lockhart said each Monday night features a different gospel group.
On Thursday, bluegrass pickin’ night, organizer Carl Towns does try to line up new bands each week, says Lockhart. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything ordinary about the Legion’s “house band,” which plays every performance before the guest stars. This amalgam of towering local talent calls itself the Dade Boys.
“We’ve got a fiddle player, we’ve got an upright bass, we’ve got a banjo,” said Lockhart. “Norman plays his Dobro – he’s so talented – and there’s a mandolin. Sometimes there’s been two mandolins up there.”
By “Norman” – need we explain to local bluegrass fans? – Lockhart means Norman Blake, the Rising Fawn homeboy whose already stellar reputation went international with the soundtrack of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Blake has been playing with the Dade Boys pretty regularly in the past month or so, says Lockhart.
And in intensely musical Dade County, where practically every public official seems to keep a guitar case behind his desk, is it any surprise that Dade Boys’ regular mandolin player is Chief Magistrate Joel McCormick?
For both Gospel Night and Pickin’ at the Post, doors open at 5 p.m. and the show begins at 7 p.m. Admission is free, though some bands pass the hat and of course food and soft drinks are sold. “We’re not after money,” said Lockhart. “We’re after the community to have something to do locally.”
First Thursdays of the month, said Lockhart, wrestling takes the place of bluegrass.
And finally, the Legion still hosts bingo games every Friday and Saturday from 7-9 p.m. Lockhart said attendance had lagged in past months and the post had been considering replacing bingo with some other program, but an excellent weekend or two recently changed minds and for now, anyway, bingo remains on the agenda.
“You can play every game out here for $20,” said Lockhart, asked to describe the operation. “According to the size of the crowd and the cash register sales, we give up to an $800 jackpot. We’ll give away $1,500 a night.”
Lockhart said $13 is the minimum fee, entitling the purchaser to seven games, and he says that’s not that big an investment compared to games at other Legion posts.
“Families come in and play, businesspeople,” he said. “It’s a way people find to support their American Legion without being members.”
For more information on Post 106’s programs and offerings, you may call the Legion hall at (706) 657-5275.