The bird has flown. Dream Bird, the upmarket burger ‘n’ cocktails joint in Victoria Street has become the
latest Manx eating place to close.

There’s been a lot of it recently, for depressingly predictable reasons. Dream Bird may have had a short flight, but in its time, it will have embedded itself in people’s memories. Birthdays, leaving dos, marriage proposals, marriage break-ups, job offers, reunions with long-lost relatives from Kiribati. All sorts of life events happen while food is being consumed.

Of course, for really important events, we tend to head to finer locations. But the cheaper venues are where we spend more time. People collect memories of landmarks that took place over sachets of ketchup and laminated menus. Douglas has been home to many cafes, burger bars, greasy spoons and cafeterias that have arrived shining like a Full Manx Breakfast, earned their place in people’s affections and then vanished like a butty snatched by a seagull.

There was actually a chain of them across the British Isles at one point, but locally, if you mention The Golden Egg to people, their reaction will depend on their age. To those old enough to remember the events of 1973, it’s notorious as the location of one of the island’s rare murders. To those of us a bit younger though, a visit to The Golden Egg was the highlight of a trip into Douglas on a Saturday. It had one wall entirely mirrored with oh-so 70s smoked glass to make the place appear bigger. Although as people could still smoke indoors then, maybe it started as regular glass.

The savoury courses were kid-friendly chip-based things served at the temperature of fresh lava, It was with the puddings that the Golden Egg struck gold. They were, to the tastes of little Manx kids of the time, fabulously exotic and sophisticated.

They were called things like The Knickerbocker Glory. and The Jamaican Longboat. Classy. They were served in glass bowls of varying shapes, portrait for the Knickerbocker, landscape for the Longboat. Swirls of mock cream went on for centimetres, and no cherry was left unglaced. Puddings at home or school were either home-baked goodness or Angel Delight. Yogurt was still considered a bit chi-chi. These were sugary gateways to other worlds.

Further up Strand Street was The WImpy Bar, another popular franchise. It started in the States in the 50s, and was halfway between the traditional American diner and burger joints as we know them now. Imagine Maccy D’s but with table service, real plates, and cutlery.

Wimpy, as the name suggests, also went in for ker-razy titles for everything. There was the Brown Derby (a chocolate pudding), the Shanty Salad (square fishcakes with lettuce and tomato), the Delta Brunch (no idea) and the Bender In A Bun (a kind of hot dog, obviously – why, what were you thinking?).

Bring it up in conversation, and people will sigh “Oh, Wimpy was brilliant – I wish they’d bring them back.” The thing is, they reduced their number, but never actually went away – there are around 70 Wimpy Bars in the UK today. I think a new one here would absolutely do the business.

As time wore on, people on the island became more familiar with the ginormous burger franchises that had crossed the Atlantic and were making their presence felt in almost every town in the UK. So it was inevitable that demand would grow for the cardboard-and-greasy-paper uniformity of the big burger brands. Griddles has been celebrated in the pages of Gef before. With it’s wipe-clean hard surfaces and production-line technique it was kind of an entry-level drug for the whoppers of the industry. Griddles was highly efficient in getting the kids to think that what they wanted was low-cost homogenised product. But Manx foodies were learning that burgers and fries didn’t have to be low-rent…

I mentioned American diners earlier; with American culture looming so large in our own, this sort of venue has inspired a number of places around the island since the 1950s, from Smokey Joe’s in Port St Mary to Dave’s Delicious Dogs in Ramsey. Perhaps the best-remembered is Route 66. It opened in Duke Street in 1993, after existing as a takeaway for a couple of years, next door to the legendary Bushy’s pub.
The secret of Route 66’s success was not just attention to detail, but the quality. The individual booths,
and the American car number plates on the wall meant you could squint and imagine you were Stateside. But it was the fine ingredients and a talented kitchen team that elevated the whole thing.

Throw in the spicy, unique, and really rather beautiful lattice fries and you had Nirvana Americana.
So what’s your favourite bygone Manx eatery? This selection is Douglas-centric, but then so were my
youthful days.

And which places currently open do you think will set off waves of rose-tinted recollections in years to come? Where will old dears of the future be talking about when they thrill their grandchildren with “Ooh yes, you could get a main course and a drink for just ten pounds – that’s nearly a whole Euro in modern money”?