If the Bistro is gone, let’s not leave that gap in our downtown

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I was on the south side of Main Street, waiting for the traffic to clear, and I looked across and saw that big red sign in the window at 535 Main.

Yes, it’s that for sale/for rent sign in the window of the former Maggie’s Bistro, and, though I certainly had seen it before that moment, I can’t tell you how sad it made me.

I’m so used to looking toward the Bistro and seeing those tables in the front windows filled with folks eating, socializing and enjoying a favorite spot.

I felt as empty as they now appeared, because that image is now a ghost.

And all of us have lost something very special that likely won’t pass this way again.

The Bistro, in all its incarnations and under various owners, has been a fixture not just on Shelbyville’s precious and historic streetscape but also in the hearts and palates of numerous diners.

How many meals have you eaten there that were a memorable part of your life?

How many special occasions have you celebrated?

If you said fewer than dozens, then maybe you are a contributor to this sad moment in epicurean epoch.

Because of my age and the fact that I lived elsewhere for so many years, I suspect that I have munched more meals at the Bistro than any restaurant in Shelby County.

The Dairy Dell – and Nancy’s Drive-In, ooh those banana milkshakes – in my youth got a lot of my traffic.

And I can’t tell you how many double cheeseburgers and onion rings I carried out of the old Burger Queen when Lamar Nutt ran it on east Main.

Those were the dining days when I could eat anything and not really care about caloric consequences.

But for the adult meals, the Bistro was a place I usually visited at least once per visit home.

I can’t name one specific entree or one particular occasion that stands out, but I can tell you that this was a comfortable place to convene with friends and catch up on everyone’s lives.

To be sure, downtown restaurants are precarious in any market.

More and more, diners seem to prefer less expense and convenience – or perhaps a particular cuisine – to a unique dining experience.

It’s why McDonald’s and Burger King and dozens of other chain restaurants flourish while the special places operated by folks we know seem to have difficulty.

Main Street in Shelbyville certainly has evolved for its dining offerings.

Do you recall the days when Jennings Restaurant was in that same north 500 block of Main Street?

Did you ever eat at the City Cafe down by the old post office between 7th and 8th streets?

How about a burger and a malt at the lunch counter at Begley’s?

Maybe you stopped into Tootie’s Pool Room and tried some of those trademark fried oysters. My Granddaddy used to come home talking about them.

But before Burger Queen on the east and Jerry’s on the west became a driving loop akin to that of American Graffiti, we were limited to those few options.

The real irony of the Bistro’s closing is that Shelbyville has such a need for downtown variety, more magnets for more people. The number of restaurants has grown, and it’s sad that not all could coexist if not flourish.

When you talk to residents about what they feel is needed downtown, they unwaveringly say there needs to be a “breakfast place,” a spot where business people can gather for a morning meeting meal.

Maybe the vacancy created by the Bistro could bring such an opportunity for a venturesome soul.

The place we need actually is in Georgetown, but I don’t think we could get the place to move or to expand.

Fava’s Restaurant on Main in Georgetown has been part of the downtown there for generations, and it provides three regular meals a day six days a week.

It has developed fame, as in nearly 2 million hits on Google and mention in publications such as The New York Times, and it also has a specialness and quality that has earned that fame.

If you haven’t dined at Fava’s, you’ve missed a special opportunity. It’s a place that takes you back to the days when Jennings and City Cafe flourished, not just with the images and items on its wall but the tile ceiling and floor and booths all around.

Its food isn’t fancy, and there isn’t any alcohol.

No, Fava’s gets you high on “freckles” – well, fried pickles – and daily homemade meringue pies (I recommend coconut or butterscotch).

For breakfast, the pancakes, French toast and eggs are excellent, and the coffee is plenty hot.

The prices are fair, and the service is good.

I’m no restaurant critic, but I have traveled a good bit and eaten at many such small restaurants in quaint, out-of-the-way hamlets.

Wouldn’t Shelbyville be a better place if we had such an option downtown?

Wouldn’t the growing number of lawyers, brokers and agency workers who live and work there find it convenient, contagious and, well, comfortable?

Sounds like some of what we loved in the Bistro.