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Calumet, Michigan  06/20/02 (Day 56)

The Best Laid Plans…


If you’re ever hungry near Marquette, Michigan pop into The Rice Paddy. We did and chose our made-to-order Thai food right behind the local health inspectors (always a good idea to eat where the health inspectors eat.) Owner and chef Aoy Lachapelle also cooks for speed skaters Apollo Anton Ono and Shani Davis and other Olympic-level athletes who spend months in the city’s training facilities and are drawn to her food and her maternal personality.

Aoy has a charming habit of calling everyone boyfriend or girlfriend, but she has other charms too including an impressive pad Thai and, best of all, inside information on gas prices. We were using logic to deduce that gas would be cheaper in Marquette than in the more remote/less populated areas of the UP where we were headed. But Aoy assures us that exactly the opposite is true. So we speed past Marquette’s gas stations and fill up further north where Aoy’s advice saves us a lot of money (for more hard won lessons about how to find the best fuel prices, check out our next installment of Road Trip Tips on National Geographic Adventure magazine’s web site , due out in August, 2006).

We had every intention of camping for the night, but then we pull into the McLain State Park campground and discover that the fees have sky rocketed to more than $30 per site per night! An obviously embarrassed park ranger explains that every Michigan state park campground that had 80% or higher occupancy last season was told to double their camping fees this season. We thank her and head for Calumet where we figure we’ll check out Shute’s Bar (per previous advice from Mike in the tourist info office), then find a motel for about the same price as the campground. Turns out, an irresistible combination of whiskey, dinosaur bones, a beagle and 14 waffle makers would prevent us from getting any further than Calumet.

It all starts, as we now know many things do, at Shute’s Bar. We walk in around 8pm on a Thursday, just in time for the weekly karaoke night. Regulars, obviously anxious to use up a bit more of their 15 minutes of fame, mingle around nursing $3.75 cocktails or $2.50 beers.

We order two Maker’s and gingers from Sherry behind the bar--who just had her hair streaked for $9 but is unhappy with the results--and sit down, unwittingly taking the seat of a gentleman who has “stepped out,” leaving his cocktail behind. We have officially arrived in Michigan’s oldest known original Tavern.

Built in 1895 during the town’s copper mining boom years, Shute's Bar has been lovingly restored and features a fantastic wooden bar with the original stained glass canopy hanging over it (some folks tried to tell us the canopy is Tiffany, but we remain skeptical).  Over the years, artifacts from the area have found a home in the bar and today every surface is covered: old miner’s boots, slave shackles, the bar’s original 1894 liquor license, even tokens used in a long defunct brothel called The Hog House.

How do we know this? The man whose seat we’ve taken returns (wearing a German motorcycle helmet which he refuses to take off even once safely inside) and introduces himself as an archeologist and finder of most of the bar’s treasures (he does mumble his name but we never quite catch it). After a few sips of his now tepid cocktail, he proceeds to present the bar’s top prizes including the aforementioned brothel tokens and a dinosaur thigh bone which he drunkenly holds in the predictable suggestive position. We hardly notice that the karaoke has started, but we do notice that we are starving.

Since Shute’s idea of food is hot dog night, we amble down the block to The Michigan House Café and Brewpub. This is our second brilliant move of the night. Owned and run by Tim and Sue (and their beagle, Skeezix), Michigan House not only dishes up  a great salads, burgers and more but they make their own beer (lovingly described in Technicolor detail in their beer menu) and they have rooms to rent upstairs.

Part of their ongoing restoration of the 101 year old, three story building includes turning the second floor into a guest house and that’s how we end up sleeping in the Corner Walkup, a 500 square foot room with wrap around windows, a fireplace, a working kitchen (adorned with 14 antique waffle makers), a claw-foot tub and hard wood floors. All for $55 a night. But not before we squeeze in a few more hours of karaoke and people watching at the Shute!


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