The effects of one meatless sandwich

Karen Wils photo Spar’s champion ladies dartball team, circa 1954, including my mom, standing third from left.

ESCANABA — The Lenten smell of the classic Yooper fish fry lingers over north Escanaba.

Lent — the church season of preparation for Easter — just wouldn’t be Lent at our house without reminiscing about Spar’s Bar on Sheridan Road.

I suppose you could say my siblings and I owe our lives to Spar’s Bar and Restaurant.

This is a little history about that neighborhood tavern that housed so many laughs, so many cheers and so many Friday night fish fries.

The building dates back to before 1930. It’s been a store, a barber shop, a tavern and a restaurant with living space upstairs.

The establishment has had several owners and several names.

In the 1950s, the Sparpanis from Iron Mountain purchased the building. With it they brought the old Iron Mountain Italian recipes and the first pizza to Escanaba.

Mike and Lorraine “Bubbles” Sparpani were a fun-loving, hardworking couple and their efforts made Spar’s a favorite place for the North Town crowd to hang out.

Spar’s baked pizza, fried fish and even brewed romance. On a Friday night back in the 1950s my dad, a young whipper-snapper from Gladstone, stopped at Spar’s.

My Dad is Catholic and he wanted a sandwich on a meatless day, so he ordered a hamburger without the beef. In other words, he wanted an onion sandwich!

My mom worked at Spar’s in the 1950s and she took his order.

But what should she charge him? She asked her boss, Lorraine.

“Looks like he’s from Gladstone and looks like he’s had a few drinks… charge him the same as a hamburger with meat,” she retorted.

So Mom did and the rest is history. For the next 56 years, Dad got the best of Mom’s cooking for free. Mrs. Sparpani always blamed Dad for stealing her best “bar maid.”

All because of an onion sandwich, six new little North Towners came into this world. Our family enjoyed Mom’s homemade pizzas, spaghetti and raviolis thanks to Lorraine’s recipes.

Back in the “day,” Spar’s Bar sponsored men’s and women’s dartball teams. Dartball is different than English darts. Dartball is played on a board like a baseball diamond. My mom played for Spar’s dartball team and won several batting trophies before she moved on to play in the church leagues.

After all of us kids came along, Mom and Dad had some pretty busy years, and the occasional beer up at Spar’s Bar was a real treat.

Besides my mom, a couple of my aunties worked at Spar’s over the years. I recall them groaning when they thought about how many fish fries they prepared.

So if you roll down your windows as you head down Sheridan Road, you just may caught a whiff of baked beans, coleslaw, French fries and fish.

You may think it’s just a breeze off the bay, but it could be laughter and music and kisses from a simpler time.

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Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.

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