Bowen’s Dairy Bar, Henagar AL

Real life had interfered with our plans in a calamitously disagreeable way back in December and January, and while we kept on trucking and did not let it inconvenience us too much, it did mean the cancellation of two out-of-town trips that we had planned. One of these was going to incorporate a visit to what is possibly the last surviving Kay’s Kastles, a once-thriving ice cream chain that now only seems to exist in the town of Soddy-Daisy, a little north of Chattanooga. Perhaps we’ll make it back sometime. I mentioned this to my mother, who never, ever objected to stopping for a treat at a Kay’s Kastles in Rome on the way back from visits to Fort Payne, and she said that she had half a mind to take a side trip to this Kay’s the next time the road takes her to Chattanooga. She says that she really loved Kay’s grape milkshakes.

This was on my mind when we found ourselves in the town of Henagar, atop Sand Mountain, hoping that a dairy bar called Bowen’s was still in business. We left Scottsboro after our curious detour to the Unclaimed Baggage Depot, and made our way to AL-35, crossing the Tennessee River via the simply amazing and spectacular B.B. Comer Bridge. This wonderful old steel truss bridge (seen in a YouTube video here) has been rated structurally deficient and is in the process of being replaced. Northbound traffic from Sand Mountain toward US-72 and Scottsboro goes across a newer bridge, lessening the load that this beauty must carry. It will apparently be demolished later in the year, so readers only have a few months left to see it.

It was only a couple of miles’ detour to find Bowen’s, which opened in the early 1960s. The business is closed from Sundays through Wednesdays, and I guess that I only phoned to ask whether they were still in business on one of those days. The top of Sand Mountain may be home to the possibly unfair stereotype of an out-of-control problem of methamphetamine use, but it’s certainly not the home of a thriving social media scene. I figured that if I could indulge the ladies in a lengthy detour to that big thrift store, then they could indulge me in a fifteen-minute jaunt to see whether an old dairy bar was still in business.

Happily, it was. That said, there’s nothing to it. If you, dear reader, have a passion or a curiosity for timelost little places like this or its similarly timelost cousin restaurants around the southeast – see the “dairy bars” label for other examples – then it is certainly worth the detour up AL-75 to visit Bowen’s. If the countryside terrifies you, then you’d best stay inside the perimeter. In the days before interstate fast food, little roadside places like this were simply where the locals came for a hamburger or a milkshake. Those that survive, unheralded and unchampioned, still perform a fine service, giving the people of the community a place to come together on a surprisingly hot Saturday afternoon, taking a break from farm work. I’m not aware of any other restaurant around for miles and miles. It’s simply where the locals go. Well, locals and oddballs like us who go a long way out of our way for the same sort of soft-serve cone that interstate chains serve. Nevertheless, as we got our cones and incredibly tasty cherry milkshakes, I told the nice lady who ran the place how grateful I was to see that Bowen’s was still in business as time marches on.

An SUV pulled up while we stretched our legs, kicking up a cloud of dust. More ice cream was obtained, and the dust had not settled before the family was on their way.

When we returned to town, I told my mother that I couldn’t help but notice that they sell grape milkshakes here. Henagar is just a half-hour, if that, from Fort Payne. She says that the next time she goes to visit her cousin Judy on Lookout Mountain, she’ll phone me for directions.