It was late in August 1977, and a tired group of “Rats” had just completed their last official day of Cadre. Everyone had earned a Friday Pass, signed the book, and headed out off of old Brodie Haill to make a bee line for anything serving anything better than the usual Splut, Flitch, and Splat that they served at old Shultz Dining Hall (God bless the folks there, in those days they did what they could with what they had, and those bowls of peanut butter and jelly next to the stack of bread bags were often life savers, oh it was another time.)
Well, this weekend we weren’t limited to “on-Campus” activities. Our first Friday was spent eating burgers and fries at the snack bar in Squires – not to mention nursing a few pitchers of vitamin Schlitz back in the good old days when things were realistic and adults could procure adult beverages on campus (another rant for a different forum). This was a different weekend. First we ran across the Mall to Squires to cash the old $10.10 check for funds. Instead of heading to the snack bar, though some of the guys thought that we should hoof it down College Avenue to Main and then double back up the hill to this burger place that some upper classman had dropped the hint that they weren’t going to frequent that evening. (No Rat wants to run into an upperclassman anywhere under any human circumstances.)
So we made the trip around Henderson Hall and up Main walked in the front door. The grill was in the front back then. It was sizzling covered with fresh cooking hamburgers. You could hear the crackle of the deep fryer as the fries hit the hot grease, and hear the beeping and whirring from the few arcade machines in the back room. I think Asteroids and Pacman were the big attractions back then. We were told to sit anywhere. So we grabbed a couple of tables in the middle of the room, and ordered dinner. Some guy with shaggy hair, and a scruffy looking tee shirt told us the Jumbo Cheeseburger and plate of fries was the best deal in town. So, hey why not after a week of bracing up at the table, getting yelled at by upper classmen who messed with us constantly, and generally ruining every morning and evening meal for two weeks, a good burger and fries sounded like magic.
So, I ordered a Jumbo Cheeseburger with mustard, onions, pickles, a plate of fries and a Stroh’s Bohemian. The burger came on a paper plate, upside down and smelled like heaven. The fries came in a big salty crinkle cut pile heaped in the middle of a matching paper plate, and the beer arrived in a 12oz water glass complete with the bulge near the top. It was delivered with a smile and an accent by a lovely woman who we would find out was the wife of the owner.
We would, on Saturday night find Angelo’s Pizza down on South Main (it became Backstreets which was closed and became Mellow Mushroom) that was a short street crossing to After Sundown (which is now the Tech Bookstore – they need a glitter ball in the text book section because that was the dance floor); but the favorite place was ALWAYS Mikes Grill.
It wasn’t fancy or flashy. There were no gimmicks other than the arcade games, and it certainly wasn’t high on visiting dignitaries’ agendas – The Possibility or Cuckoo’s Nest were the high tone establishments. No, Mike’s was a students’ place. It was inexpensive, the food was wonderful, and the hours spent there never dragged. Of course it was right next to the Studio One theatre (Now, roughly PK’s) so hopping from dinner to a cheap movie on a 0100 time limited Pass was easy.
Of course Mike’s Grill would become a Game Day staple for the many non-tailgaters who wanted to grab some lunch before the big game. There was a rearrangement of the store, an addition of pizza (the best in town for the price), and excellent onion rings, and not much else. It became major away game gathering point for cheering the Hokies on when Lane Stadium was quiet. It did this for 40 years – two generations of Hokie students, family, friends, faculty, and staff.
Mike’s was my first meal off campus in Blacksburg. It was many people’s first stop. Mike Varelos passed away in 2012, his family just couldn’t make the business function, and this summer, after what was the usual 2 weeks off in August, for the usual Varelos family vacation; Mike’s never reopened. They posted the notice to the Facebook page. The community was shocked, and two generations of Hokies sighed in a painful reminder that sometimes something really good and really wonderful ends and it seems so unfair.
Well, Mike’s and the Varelos family, we at Gobbler Country, who have all been customers of yours over the last 40 years, wish you a fond farewell. Would that there have been someone or some group out there that would have come to the table with enough backing to modernize a bit, expand, and update. The restaurant business is one of the toughest in the nation. 20 hour days, 7 day weeks, constant cleaning, equipment repair, buying, negotiating, (Ok, so I grew up in the restaurant business and know a bit of what Mike’s family was facing.)
Hokie Nation Loves you and we are going to miss you greatly!