• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #32: Benjamin's, Durham


Not Pictured: Benjamin's

It isn't there any more, and hasn't been for a while. Long enough that even the interwebs have been reluctant to yield up a photo of the place. But it was there, I promise, on Jenkins Court, that little one-way side street in downtown Durham. The building used to be a movie theater in the old days, and housed a wing joint more recently before, apparently, becoming a Thai place. But during my mid-90s stint at UNH and for a few years after it was a restaurant called Benjamin's, and I loved it.

It was a pretty standard American restaurant, actually, burgers and beer, but there were lots of small touches that endeared it to me. For one, the burgers were really good - I was partial to the Bifocal, a bacon cheeseburger. As that name suggests, the place was littered with Benjamin Franklin themes - including a sketch on the menu of the man himself ordering something at table. I used to tell the waitresses "I'll have what he's having". They never found it funny. There were battered old Trivial Pursuit cards on the tables. This was my kind of place. I went whenever funds allowed, and I can recall many enjoyable lunches and dinners there with friends, fellow students, even a faculty thesis advisor a few times.

One story in particular stands out. I didn't drink until I was 21 - less from some moral high ground than because my scholarship reserved the right to cut me off if I got into trouble. A can of Natty Light wasn't worth the full freight of tuition, and so I stayed dry my first three years. At the tail end of my junior year, in May of 1996, I turned 21 three weeks after Becky Turner and I were sworn in as SBP/VP. There was a party at Benjamin's for my birthday, on the whitewashed porch out back in the balmy spring weather. A surprising number of folks showed up (including Nate Oxnard on a special mission from Bowdoin, Joel Mellin, Miriam Altman, and others) to help celebrate - in particular I recall the gift of a box of Froot Loops from my ever-patient running mate. Yeah, the crowd worked me over pretty good as a bar rookie, and in the end I think Adam Bragg kindly offered to drive me home. The poor guy - instead of directions across campus to the Woodsides, I gave him directions to my parents' house in Stratham. He must have wondered where the heck we were going.

Lots of memories of that place, and others on campus like the Tin Palace and the Cancun Saloon. Like many eateries in college towns, they came and went. But the ones that populated the landscape in our indelible school days will always be there, at least for us.

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