Postcards from Katherine
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Postcard #27: The Steak Pit at the Patricia Hotel
The Steak Pit at the Patricia Hotel in Patricia Alberta is all retro cowboy. The building itself is flat-roofed and sad-looking. The swinging saloon doors need oiling. You pass under a large hanging Labatt’s can and alongside are spurs nailed to the wall, over the name of their owner. On the wooden tables, cattle brands are carved into the wood. The waitress is eight months pregnant and into that insouciant phase where she’s not going to get bothered by anything. We order beer and the buffalo T-bone, because she says it is the best.
On the walls are photographs of bronco riders and posters with slogans like “Get your city out of my country” and “Cowboy parking only: Violators will be castrated.”
But just when you think the locals aren’t very friendly they surprise you. While waiting for my steak I wandered past the pool table. There was a door labelled “STUDS”. A couple of fellows drinking at a nearby table recommended that I open it. I knew there was something fishy but I’m gullible. “You’ll really like it,” they kept saying. I opened it. Inside was a life-size painting of a cowboy from the back with his pants down, presumably taking a pee. I didn’t like it that much but I smiled to show them that I appreciated art.
You can’t say this place lacks history, either. Patricia is on the edge of the Badlands, where you can trip over dinosaur thighbones dating back 75 million years. Centrosaurus was found in numbers of up to 300, having got trapped in a flood some fifteen million years ago. Paleontologists began digging them up in the 1880’s. Then came the ranching years. Natural gas extraction in Alberta began near here too. These epochs are immortalized in a hand-painted wall mural. Looking at it I reflected on the extinctions: first all those dinosaurs, then the buffalo—there were millions of the hoary beasts only one hundred and fifty years ago. I suppose the cowboys could be next.
The buffalo steak arrived on a Styrofoam plate with a piece of wax paper stuck to the top. It was raw. You had to step up to the grill and cook it yourself. There’s a big aluminum fan over it, which is lucky because ‘though it was hot outside—35 degrees when we drove up—it was hotter still standing at that grill. We remarked on the clever business model: customer cooks, customer pays. We brushed the steak with barbecue sauce and it was good. Not exceptional, but good. I could not have told buffalo from beef.
But we didn’t really come for the steak. We came to go “comfort camping” at Dinosaur Provincial Park. It was fine—tent on a wooden platform, fridge, stove, electric lights, hot water. The mosquitoes drove us out. I’m glad we ended up at the Patricia Hotel. You enter feeling that time has forgotten it but you leave thinking this is one place where all the remnants come to light.