Americana: Neon Signs

Broken Spoke sign

Our eye is often caught by things that seem a little exotic. This week’s photo challenge (names) has reminded me to share images of neon branding signs you can hardly miss seeing. The last sign in particular is the kind we don’t often see in the UK.

The first decorates the entrance of Broken Spoke, on Lamar Boulevard in Austin, TX. Dating back to 1964, you’ll see this country music venue variously described as a honky-tonk, the earliest stomping grounds of Willie Nelson or the last of the true Texas Dancehalls. 

Friends will vouch for the fact that organised dancing has never really been my thing. I’m only just starting to ‘get’ country music (“Tell ole I ain’t here he better get on home”). Still, I had lots of fun learning the two step here one Guy Fawkes Night (in lieu of bonfires, fireworks and treacle toffee, which just goes to show that a girl can’t have everything).

Lowell's Restaurant sign

A few thousand miles up the country, the area around Pike Place in Seattle, WA, offers a fantastic choice of places to eat, many of them with queues snaking hungrily down the street. Seattle, like Austin, seems to be home to more than its fair share of artists and graphic designers. Branding is not just a duty for them but a joy.

The first of the market signs belongs to Lowell’s Restaurant, famous for their breakfast menu, in particular the Dungeness Crab Omelette which every major newspaper in the land appears to have lauded. Their Historic Hangover Fry with oysters looks back nostalgically to the days when successful gold rushers celebrated their good fortune by ordering the most lavish breakfast they could find in the city. Their byline is ‘Almost Classy Since 1957’.

Walker's Drive-In Fondren

The neon signage of Walker’s in Fondren, the Arts District of Jackson, MS, remains true to its 1950s heritage. No longer a drive-in, Walker’s menu features Portobello fries with horseradish comeback dressing, tamales and blue plate lunches in the daytime, with elegant dining in the evenings.

Magnolia Cafe sign

After those two, The Magnolia Cafe South in Austin seems like a newcomer, dating back only so far as 1979. Their sign is pure Americana and the menu is a classic too: Fish Tacos with voodoo spices and some tasty vegetarian options including Martian Landscapes (this is Austin, after all). The Magnolia Cafe has its own song which staff traditionally stand still to sing during the busiest time on Saturday morning. It ends:

shop shoo wah, yeah yeah yeah…… yummmmmm.

I’m not making any of this up – if you doubt me, take a look online.

Something about this reminded me of a quip printed on the menu of a diner on New Orleans’s Bourbon Street: “If you are not served in 5 minutes, relax, it may be another 5. This is not New York City.” The service, needless to say, was very prompt.

It’s a marker of how much time I’ve spent in the US that bold, eye-catching neon signs no longer seem the least bit strange: they fill me with joy. It’s good to be proud of who you are.

31 Replies to “Americana: Neon Signs”

    1. Not a single road trip. We travel quite widely for talks and lectures and try to visit a few iconic places while we’re there. It took me a while to dial into the regional food – it still has a touch of the exotic for me.

    1. I will – thank you! The trouble is Austin tends to be a visit squeezed in on the way to somewhere else. I did see (and enjoy) the wildflower centre one time. I keep mentioning to my sweetheart that the English typically take a fortnight’s vacation in one spot, but he hasn’t taken the hint!

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