Manufacturer: Shenango China
User: Owl Club Casino & Restaurant
Date of cup: 1979
Notes: The Owl Club Casino & Restaurant is located at 72 East Front Street in Battle Mountain, Nevada. According to a 2020 article in OnlyInYourState.com, "this iconic Nevada restaurant has been a staple in its community for over a century and it's well worth a stop when you're in the area." In addition to the casino and restaurant, it also has a hotel with 27 rooms.
Frank Eaton and Samuel Ballin opened the Owl Club in 1921. It is a challenge to piece together what the place was and has been at various times in its history: certainly a place to gamble, but also serving as a gathering spot in a small, isolated town, with café, possibly curio shop, and even hotel. Nearly 70 years after the deaths of Eaton and Ballin in 1955 and 1956, respectively, and after multiple owners, the Owl Club is still in business.
The venue has seen its ups and downs, with the rerouting of I-80, for one example. In the 1970s there were more than 100 employees, and one story in the Reno Gazette Journal about the place that year marveled at the Owl Club's constant remodeling over the years, and "one other tradition, that of never closing. Not once in 19 years, even during the flood which covered the town 12 years ago.
"But then, they couldn't close the Owl Club even if they wanted to.
"We don't even have a key for the front door," said Carmen [Hinman, who with her husband Butch owned the club at that time].
In 2001, Battle Mountain, and by extension the Owl Club, gained a bit of notoriety when it was named "The Armpit of America." Gene Weingarten, a columnist for the Washington Post, was tasked with spending time in the town for a story about this dubious distinction, and among his observations were these about the Owl Club at that time:
"Downtown Battle Mountain boasts three principal business establishments, each with its own marquee, each a triumph of misinformation. The most elaborate sign adorns the Owl Club; it is a huge neon triptych featuring a smiling hoot owl proudly serving up a tray of piping hot food, a cow dourly contemplating the words 'Choice Steaks,' and a big, blocky, authoritative 'FAMILY DINING.'
"The Owl Club serves no food. It's a bar. Its restaurant is closed. (Editor's note: Now in 2024, the restaurant is open.)
"As you enter Battle Mountain, a large billboard promises two things: 'Fine Dining' and 'A Good Night's Rest.' Having despaired of finding the first, I aspired to the second at the famous Owl Club, where rooms are only $29 because the place doesn't go in for fancy big-city amenities like a coffee maker in the room, or an iron, or a shoe-buffing cloth, or shampoo, or a clock, or a telephone, or spotless carpeting.
"I sank into bed for my promised good night's sleep, which I admit, in all candor, was delivered exactly as advertised, the solemn covenant between Battle Mountain and its guests remaining intact right up until 4:21 a.m. when the Union Pacific rumbled and roared and clanged and whistled its way through downtown, about 200 feet away."
Weingarten's story is a long one, because in between his first visit to Battle Mountain in summer of 2001 and his second later that fall, "Everything Changed."
"With the nation united in mourning and at war, with the Stars and Stripes aflutter in places large and small, slick and hicky, the idea of poking fun at any one part of us became a great deal less funny. The zeitgeist had shifted. Snide was out.
"I had to go back, to rethink things."
Because the story that began with such humorous intent went sideways after 9/11, it ended up exemplifying so much of what is appealing about collecting restaurant china and researching its history. More than its beauty, or its cool charm, or its reflection of design trends and timeline of history, it has the ability to show us the soul of America, foibles and all. It really is worth the time to read to the very end: Why Not the Worst?
White body cup with a turquoise stripe around the outer lip. On the left side is a cartoon drawing in brown of an owl in a chef's hat carrying a serving tray with a steaming teapot or coffee pot. We haven't seen any topmarked china from the club except for cups and wonder if the rest of the service might simply have been white with the turquoise line.
Nevada State Journal
Barstow Desert Dispatch
Cup photos: Ed Babcock
ID and ashtray photo: Roland Burritt
Author: Ed/Susan Phillips