Editor's note: This story was updated on the Web on Friday, April 11.
After opening in 1971, Manitou Springs' Castaways became the place to be. Well into the '80s, if you were trying to impress a client or a date, choosing between Castaways or The Broadmoor proved tough. It was, as old-school diners will attest, one of the classiest places in town.
In the aging process, however, a fine line appears separating "classic" and "relic." Sadly, like frosted hair, Castaways is sliding toward the latter.
Dipping back to the '70s and '80s when his father owned the place owner Michael Howard has decided to dress his servers in full pirate garb. On one recent visit, the waitress greeted our table with a hearty, "Aaaaargh!"
With the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the new freecreditreport.com ads in mind, I can tell you there's nothing redeeming that comes from dressing like a pirate, unless your check says "The Walt Disney Company" and your name is Johnny Depp.
But aside from the Jolly Roger atmosphere replete with over-the-top waterfall entrance, jungle sounds and toucan squawks the restaurant's guilty of one major sin: nothing feels remotely fresh.
Frozen in time, the menu is a bland mix of "classic" steak and seafood dishes and an odd sprinkling of traditional German dishes, brought by chef Uwe Dethlefsen, former owner of Uwe's German Restaurant.
A first visit brought the jaegerschnitzel with sherry mushroom gravy ($10.95) and the ruby red trout with hazelnut butter ($15.95). We also tried two tasty tropical cocktails ($7), but drinking out of a parrot's skull proved more Love Boat tacky than Caribbean cute.
The trout arrived devoid of all seasoning, accompanied by an incredibly salty twice-baked potato. The candied frozen carrots were mushy, with a few crunchy fresh carrot slices thrown in. Those few refused to succumb to the ruddy appearance of the syrupy liquid, as their counterparts had done.
The red cabbage and potato balls accompanying the schnitzel were spot-on, but the two large schnitzels failed to excite. Using words like "fine," "pretty good" and "nice," I asked my guest when she would be coming back. Answer: "Probably never."
Thinking all this might appeal to a younger demographic, I brought my 14-year-old niece on the next visit. Her observations were as follows. Waterfall cool. Crystals on fire cool. Nautical theme overall "kinda fishy."
As for her twin steak medallions ($11.95), highest praise went to the crispy french fries; the medallions proved too chewy. Arriving on a small cart, my chicken cordon bleu ($15.95), another "classic" with baked potato, was dressed tableside. Large dishes of bacon cheddar butter, plain butter and sour cream were my choices. At one time, this added attention may have been classy, but today it feels clunky and uncomfortable. Capping our experience, we were presented with a faded blue, heated, wet washcloth to wipe our hands.
At dinner's end, my niece offered her one-line synopsis: "This place is gloomy."
Castaways is haunted by ladies in shoulder pads, mid-management types that do the "snap-point," and a even a guy named Stan, with a comb-over, sitting at the bar.
Having been born in 1971, I have a stake in believing that at 36, this restaurant can still be vibrant, cool and fresh. But if Castaways keeps letting time pass it by, it may wind up the "Lola" of area restaurants.