Back in the mid 1970s, when kids rode their bikes all over New Castle County and Amber Alerts weren’t invented yet, I sometimes had a few dollars to travel from my home near Sallies in ‘The Triangle’ down to The Market Street Mall. I was probably what they now call a tweener — just without all of the disposable income.
Wilmington had blocked traffic and made Market Street an open air concourse, sort of like what Times Square has now morphed into, where you can walk, eat, and shop.
But this was like Times Square back in the day (minus the sleaze), but with the same dicey limited eating options.
If you were older, you probably ate lunch down the street at Oscars (now Cavanaughs), but if it was July, 1977 and you were a sweaty 12 year old? And you only had two or three dollars? You probably ended up at The Patio.
Why wouldn’t you end up there?
There was the Woolworth’s fountain counter, but even that seemed too grown-up for me.
You went to The Patio.
The Patio was on the 800 block of Market Street, and there was aways a super-friendly Greek guy about my Dad’s age working there, and he had perfectly blow-dried backwards black hair, and he rocked a giant bushy moustache.
If you were a foodie that only liked fries, a burnt hot-dog or burger, well… maybe this was your spot too! The fries at The Patio were pretty good though, if I recall.
And they had the soft-serve ice cream, which is all the kids wanted anyway.
That was about it it. Always a busy lunch crowd, but the Greek guy was unflappably polite to all his younger customers, leaning over the counter to take my order and stopping by later to ask if my orange soda needed a refill.
With long time Wilmo fixture “Herbie The Paper Boy” hawking papers somewhere nearby, the Wilmington Dry Goods down the street, and the tiny, packed to the rafters, Al’s Sporting Goods at the bottom of the Mall, this was Wilmington in all it’s re-born infancy — the plan to connect Market Street to the Christiana riverfront, still a pipe dream that took you past the train station to abandoned shipyards, and some questionable characters lurking around the trash-strewn overgrowth that is now the River Walk. The Mall was really just those three upper blocks.
I miss The Patio which recently shut its doors, my Greek friend long gone, and that novel soft-serve ice cream cone machine also gone forever.
Places like The Patio would never, ever, try to open their doors these days, unless the fries were made with sweet potatoes, and the burgers probably made with at least Turkey or something more new-cuisine.
I miss that weird little hamburger spot with the bad orange formica booths — but I like where Market Street is heading these days.
And I have to admit, I like eating turkey burgers better now too.