Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

The Gobbler


Unfortunately, for those of you who were looking for a unique dining-out experience on Thanksgiving, the Gobbler restaurant has been closed for many years.

However, Jim Lileks can still take you on an online tour of the once-famous motel and restaurant.

Imagine the pitch to the investors:

“It’s going to be a futuristic, state-of-the-art motel with every modern convenience from water beds to 8-tracks. The entire dining area will be covered in deep-pile pink and purple carpet. But wait – here’s the best part. It will look like an abstract sculpture of a giant turkey. We’ll bill it as a romantic getaway – and call it The Gobbler!”

Whether every excruciating detail of this complex was planned out in advance, or whether it just happened, , I don’t know. I don’t know much about this place beyond the pictures you have here. This is a brochure taken from the Hartwig Gobbler, a motel-bar-restaurant off I-94 in Wisconsin. The brochure dates from construction, which must have been in the late 60s. But I got the brochure on a trip in March of 1984, and the restaurant was as ghastly then as it is in the pictures.

Now that it’s gone, of course, we want it back.

This site is an appreciation of a lost slice of American architecture and design – a period when just about everything had run off the rails, and good taste, restraint and classic traditions were utterly abandoned. There was an informal architectural style called Googie, named for a coffee-shop chain in LA; the diners had heaps of rough stone, cantilevered roofs, odd modern touches side-by-side with kitschy anachronisms. Well, this is Post-Googie. The jet-age futurism of the 60s had turned into the cheap, Logan’s-Run modernism of plastic chairs; the experimentation with different materials had ended up in a smothering expanse of mass-produced carpet. This is a style that can go absolutely nowhere. It’s the look of the future for at least a week.

There is more history of the motel/restaurant at Requiem for the Gobbler Motel. The Gobbler’s story is a double tragedy: that it folded, and that it was built.

The ultimate fate of the property is still uncertain.

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