Polar Bar sign channels memories of Salisbury patrons

By Ralph Washburn
Posted 5/4/22

The Polar Bar diner on East Main Street in Salisbury was in business from 1948 to 1998. I've read newspaper articles about how popular this place was, and I've seen quotes from many locals about how …

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Polar Bar sign channels memories of Salisbury patrons

Posted

The Polar Bar diner on East Main Street in Salisbury was in business from 1948 to 1998. I've read newspaper articles about how popular this place was, and I've seen quotes from many locals about how much they've enjoyed it. Yet, during its 50-year existence, I never went inside it one single time.

So, for me, the image of this Polar Bar sign represents something completely different than it did for most of its patrons.

As a child in the early 1970s, I lived more than three hours south of Salisbury in Newport News, Va. I looked forward to visiting my grandparents once or twice a year in Salisbury.

Traveling to Salisbury, seated in the back seat of my parent's car, I could tell I was getting close to my grandparent's house when I saw the Polar Bar sign. My grandparents Milton and Virginia Ruark lived on East William Street, one street over from the Polar Bar.

Visiting my grandparents meant that I would be in a welcoming environment, visiting with many relatives that lived in the area, Ocean City trips to splash around, and enjoy rides, popcorn, and french fries (most definitely with vinegar). It also meant enjoying my grandmother Virginia Ruark's excellent cooking and a backyard tree rope swing. 

Whenever I saw the unique and friendly Polar Bar bear with treats in hand, I knew those enjoyable family moments were about to begin. 

Almost two decades after the Polar Bar went out of business, the large Polar Bar sign turned up in 2017 and was for sale in Snow Hill’s Toy Town Antique store. So, naturally, I was interested in purchasing it.

I visited the store and found the painted plywood sign in decent condition for its age, but it was a little out of my price range.

I also decided it'd be better for the sign to stay in the area on display for all of the area residents to enjoy. 

Still desiring the sign, I decided to do the next best thing, make my own.

The sign I made wasn't intended to be a replica. It couldn't be because the Polar Bar sign had a couple of different versions.

My acrylic painting on a ¾-inc-thick piece of plywood reproduction sign incorporates features of both signs that appeared out in front of the diner for so many years, and parts from a newspaper advertisement in a 1980s Daily Times during Bill and Joan Givans tenure of ownership.

Erick Sahler of Erick Sahler Serigraphs Co. was kind enough to provide me with that Polar Bar newspaper advertisement image.

My grandmother Virginia Ruark also worked at the Polar Bar for the original owner, Dr. John B. May, as did one of her daughters, Sandra Ruark Hall, and son, Milton "Tom" Ruark. Aunt Sandra of Hallwood said that the Polar Bar was most definitely a popular place and that her mother (Virginia) loved going in early mornings for years to make donuts. In addition, Sandra said that she loved the Polar Bars Rib Eye steak subs. 

In 2022, my childhood and many of those relatives of almost 50 years ago are long gone, but my sign is a reminder of those good people and times.

The front side of the sign is a detailed painting. The backside is also painted, but without all of the detail.

It also features laminated newspaper articles about the Polar Bar over the years.

So what does one do with a 7-foot, 8-inch Polar Bar sign?

I already have a few unique art items in my house that I've made or purchased.

This Polar Bar sign is an excellent addition and contributes to seemingly turning my house into one big man cave. 

Ralph Washburn lives in Yorktown, Va. The former Polar Bar now operates as Kellyn's Kafe in Salisbury.