When I was a kid, there was no restaurant I longed to eat at more — no dining experience more fraught with both delight and excitement — than the newly opened Bugaboo Creek at the Bangor Mall. The news yesterday, that after nearly 20 years this fine eatery’s Bangor outpost closed after little more than a presumably brisk phone call from the corporate office, made adult me a bit sad.
I am fully aware of what a ridiculous pair of statements this may appear to be to some people. Allow me to explain.
Growing up in a very small town 45 minutes south of Bangor, any trip to the “big city” was a big deal. Searsport did not have stores that sold things other than groceries or antiques. It didn’t have fast food. It didn’t have traffic lights. And it most certainly didn’t have a restaurant with a talking moose.
If a Saturday trip to Bangor was planned by my mother, I was psyched. I was ready. After she dragged me to the boring adult places she needed to go to, we were going to the Bangor Mall! It had stores like Spencer Gift and Record Town and J.C. Penney, and had a fountain and a bunch of fake plants in the middle, and SpacePort and Orange Julius and Piercing Pagoda and YOGURTIME AND SALAD TOO, and, most importantly, other young people that I had never met before. And after the shopping — or rather, me asking for things and not being purchased them because I was a kid and, just, no — we got to go out for dinner. Hopefully, at a fancy place.
First, the fancy place to go was the Olive Garden, because that was the first sit-down chain restaurant to open at the Mall. Technically, Red Lobster opened before them, but we do not speak of such a place here in Maine. But breadsticks and hospitaliano and bottomless glasses of whatever that Sicilian Splash drink was were nothing, compared to the next chain restaurant that opened: Bugaboo Creek.
I didn’t even really like steak that much. I tended to prefer just eating salad and mashed potatoes. But boy, did I like talking animals, and boy, did Bugaboo Creek have them. While my family and I were seated in the faux-hunting lodge style dining room, drinking Sprite out of comically large mugs, a cacophony of cartoonish voices went off, at seemingly totally random intervals, from animatronic buffalo, moose, bear, raccoon and woodpecker heads. It was like a tiny bit of Disney World in Bangor. They had cool steak knives with wooden handles, and Canadian-themed stuff on the walls, and at Christmas, there was a talking Christmas tree. It was magical.
In hindsight, I would like to apologize for putting my family through the ordeal of listening to the same loop of corny jokes from robotic woodland creatures while they tried to eat their dinner. And as a passionate supporter of local businesses and Bangor’s downtown revival, I am always inclined to patronize the small, locally-owned eatery, over the massive national chain. But I am truly sad to see Bugaboo Creek go. Like the rest of the Bangor Mall area of my childhood, it was a little slice of city life for a kid from the sticks. It was far from glamorous, and compared to larger urban areas, it was laughably small. But it was something — different, special, fancy.
I remember eating there with my husband a few years ago, and being disappointed that the talking animals were gone. As it turns out, BDN columnist Sarah Smiley and her family were also dismayed to find they were gone, and a subsequent column she wrote bemoaning their loss prompted Bangor Bugaboo management to bring Bill the Buffalo back from the dead.
Bill the Buffalo wasn’t enough, though. I’m sorry, Bill.
The Bangor Mall area has changed dramatically over the past 20 years — first with the massive influx of many more chain restaurants and the expansion of the Mall itself in 1998, then the arrival of Super Wal-Mart and Target and other big stores, and then with the build-out of the rest of Stillwater Avenue. The Mall itself has been hit hard recently, with stores like The Gap, Radio Shack, New York & Company, Delia’s and the Hallmark Store all closing within the past two years. Whether that’s the fault of online shopping, or of the move outward of development in the area, we can never truly know. All I know is that the Bangor Mall area of my childhood — record stores and talking animals alike — is almost gone. Well, except Spencer Gift. As long as there are people that want to buy a Scarface t-shirt or black light poster of the Caterpillar from “Alice in Wonderland,” Spencer Gift will stick around.
Goodbye, Bugaboo Creek. Kid me and adult me will both miss you, and your friendly woodland creatures.
What are your favorite memories of the pre-expansion Bangor Mall days? Comment below. I’d love to hear your stories.