A short cruise down Chinden Boulevard and the Ranch Club's iconic horse rears triumphantly into view. It's the Garden City superhero, complete with a tattered Jagermeister cape that flutters lethargically in the mid-afternoon wind. But part this pub's heavy doors and the whir of traffic and blinding summer sun all but disappear. Though the Ranch Club has been a Garden City staple since 1950, it has recently come under new ownership. The smoke-seared wood paneling and shiny, deep-buttoned leather benches indicate that not much has changed.
On a recent trip to this black hole of watering-holes, my dining companion and I readied ourselves for the greasy grub with a couple of cold beers. I ordered the Black Butte Porter ($3.75) and my pal ordered Budweiser in a bottle ($2.75). For an appetizer, we started with the spinach and artichoke dip ($5) that came with toasted and buttered French bread slices. The dip was served hot in a ceramic dish and, we both agreed, was generally underwhelming—more chunky than creamy and far too garlic heavy. Another eye-catching appetizer that I'd probably opt for next time are the chicken tornados ($6): chicken, cheese and spinach wrapped in flour tortillas, deep fried and served with a side of Delgado sauce.
As we watched the muted pageantry of the Preakness and waited for our main course, the tables on both sides of ours began to fill up with poker players. Green mats were rolled out and multi-colored towers of poker chips formed in anticipation of this popular weekly event. After a short while, our cut-off-jean-shorts-clad waitress emerged from the kitchen with our entrees. My dining companion ordered the prime rib dip sandwich ($7.50) served on a sourdough roll. It consisted of very thinly sliced roast beef, crispy fries and a side of salty au jus for dunking. He noted that the sandwich was satisfying and exactly what he had expected. He also ordered four ridiculously spicy hot wings at a quarter each. We both agreed that the tongue-searing wings, served with a side of blue cheese, should come with a flashing, not-for-weenies warning.
For my main course, I ordered the popcorn shrimp basket ($7), which came with crinkle-cut fries, cocktail sauce and a creamy fry dip. The shrimp were coated with a crunchy, black pepper beer battering that put the frozen, school-cafeteria variety to shame. The dish was filling and, surprisingly, not too greasy. Had I been slightly hungrier, I would have opted for the beer-battered halibut ($14).
With food still left on the table, and not an ounce more room in our bellies, we got up to peruse the entertainment options. The Ranch Club's main room is divided by a long horse-shoe bar with pool tables on either side. There's a shuffleboard table against one wall and a sprinkling of various flashing video games. One that piqued our interest was the Dragon Punch machine where, for a dollar, you can hit a retractable overhead punching bag and score your relative manliness. At the opposite end of the restaurant, past the restrooms and DJ booth, there's a black light corner with a glowing Jack Daniels pool table. This corner, along with the massive digital jukebox at the door, seems to be the Ranch Club's attempt at modernity.
My dining companion and I wandered back to our table and were promptly encouraged to pay our bill by our toe-tapping server. Sixty odd years of catering to Garden City bar flies has obviously bred skepticism for lengthy drinking and dining sessions sans payment. We settled our tab and stumbled from the Ranch Club's smoky labyrinth into the teary-eyed sunshine. We were both completely satiated and agreed that our experience, though Twilight Zone-esque, was an interesting departure from the downtown lunch scene. We pulled out of the gravel parking lot and waved goodbye to the gallant mascot, in silent agreement that this would not be our last Ranch Club rodeo.
—Tara Morgan prefers a perfecta to a photo finish.