It can't help but pique your curiosity when you drive by the Whiskey River Cafe and Lounge on Table Rock Road in Central Point.
On a theater-like marquee, surrounded by lights that roll and flash, the words just don't seem to fit.
15-minute search on Google found plenty of drinking establishments and a few bands with that name, but nary a waterway. The most famous "Whiskey River," of course, is the song
by Willie Nelson and Johnny Bush. That is if you don't count the whiskey (shown) named after the song named after the river that
might not exist. In the meantime, drown your sorrows
in a few
of sadness from the
I'm drowning in
a whiskey river,
Bathing my mem'ried mind in the wetness
of its soul.
Feeling the amber
current flowin' from
And warm an
you left so cold.
Whiskey River take
Don't let her mem'ry torture me.
Whiskey River don't
You're all I've got,
take care of me.
"Sunday Service with Aimee."
Now, what could that mean? Church services? Appliance repair? Patient readers will soon have their answer.
Buff Atkinson and his wife, Cathy, bought the Whiskey River about six years ago, when it had a notorious reputation and was known as the Satin Slipper.
"We kept the old name for about a year and a half," says Atkinson, "until we could get the place cleaned up. ... It's taken a while, but now it's a decent place again. Nice and respectable."
He credits his wife for coming up with the name "Whiskey River," the same name they used years ago when they owned a food distributing service in Southern California.
While changing a light bulb on his marquee, Atkinson explains that because the building was constructed more than 50 years ago, maintenance and upgrades are always at the top of his to-do list.
"Our list is probably still 86 items long or more," he says with a laugh.
"We keep working at it and the place is really looking good these days."
He points with pride to patches of waterless grass that look like tiny green islands in a sea of bark mulch at the front of the building. There's even a rugged old rowboat grounded at the main entrance.
The long blue building divides about equally between a restaurant and a lounge.
"We have really good food here," says waitress Sandy Maish.
That seems like a valid claim, judging by the sound of food orders being called to the kitchen, the clattering of silverware and dishes, and the boisterous Sunday morning breakfast crowd gathered around tables and at the lunch counter.
About a year ago, when the Atkinsons took a vacation, Maish came in just to help. She enjoyed the people so much she decided to stay on.
"If I slow down I'll just hurt myself," she says while clearing dishes at a nearby table.
Maish isn't the only employee surprised to be working at the Whiskey River. Dwight Bryant, a cabinetmaker by trade, was busy frying eggs and flipping pancakes on the grill.
"The company I worked for went out of business," he says. "Buff must have asked me three or four times to learn how to cook and come work for him."
Not only did Bryant learn how to cook, he helped Atkinson with his upgrade projects by building the entire bar and its shelving, the tables, the lunch counter and the waitress station.
Looking for a customer who was willing to talk didn't take long.
"The food is just fabulous," says Laura Aney, who with her husband, Bill, proudly call themselves "regulars."
"The people here are wonderful," she says. "They treat you like family. "
"We used to only come here once in awhile," says Bill Aney, "but now, for about four or five years, we've been coming every Sunday to have a nice little breakfast with our friends."
Entrance to the lounge is through a small room that separates it and cigarette smoke from the restaurant.
Even on a Sunday, the lounge is also filled with people. It seems to be one of those comfortable places, the kind where "everybody knows your name."
Besides the bar, there are three pool tables where tournaments are held every Monday night and games are free on Tuesdays. There's a dance floor for karaoke and music by Jerry the DJ, and along the wall, the usual video poker machines and a jukebox.
A monthly list of "regulars" and their birthdays is posted on the wall near the daily food specials and the schedule of bands and other weekly entertainment.
Nearby is another sign that reads: "Don't drink and drive — let Whiskey River get you home."
Carol Geyer, who has been a bartender here since 1994, says that a retired gentleman is available in the evenings to drive people home if they've had too much to drink.
It is Geyer who reveals the mystery of the "Sunday Service with Aimee" sign.
"Oh, the sign is just to get attention," she says. "Unless there is a band scheduled, whoever is the bartender at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning gets their name on the sign. For the last few months it's been Aimee."
When Aimee Dickerson arrives for her shift and learns that her name on the marquee has aroused a lot of people's curiosity, including the local newspaper's, she laughs.
"That's funny and kind of neat," she says. "I guess that's why people are always taking my picture."
It is still a busy morning and Aimee has no time to talk.
"We've done that for a long time," says Buff Atkinson. "I don't know when it started or how I got the idea. Maybe I saw it in a magazine or somewhere. It's just an attention-getter. It puts a question mark in people's minds."
So now you know. It's not church services or appliance repair. It's just Aimee, and everyone else who comes to work each day and punches the clock at the Whiskey River Cafe and Lounge.
Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.