The original Arctic Bear sign was donated to Thronateeska Heritage Center years ago, but has been temporarily housed on a trailer at Merry Acres Inn, where it can be maintained and moved. The sign will soon be moving to a permanent location where it will once again beckon hungry Albanians to the Arctic Bear restaurant. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — A new restaurant with a familiar name will soon be opening in Albany, when the Arctic Bear comes out of hibernation early next year.
Restaurant group Stewbo’s recently agreed to lease what was Wagner’s Barbeque’s drive through facility on Dawson Road, with plans to turn that location into the new Arctic Bear.
According to Stewbo’s co-owner Bo Henry, the group plans to start renovating the space after the holidays in hopes of getting the restaurant open by late January or early February.
“It’s a ways off right now,” Henry said. “We’re going to get started on it right after Christmas. We’ve got a lot to do like cleaning and painting and right now we’ve got a lot of stuff going on. Once we get through Christmas we’ll jump on it full force.”
Although nothing’s been finalized, Henry said the group hopes to not only bring back the name, but also much of the original Arctic Bear menu, which featured hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and milkshakes, among other things. Henry said he and his partners have gotten close the family of original Arctic Bear owners Norton and Clarence Johnston and along with their blessing, have also gotten a few family recipes.
“We’re really bringing back the Arctic Bear,” Henry said. “We’ll even have some of the original recipes.”
Originally opened by the Johnston brothers in 1950 on the corner of Slappey Drive and Oglethorpe Boulevards, the Arctic Bear was an Albany culinary staple and hangout until it closed in 1995, when Norton Johnston retired and leased the property to the Checkers restaurant chain.
The familiar Arctic Bear sign, featuring a polar bear licking an ice cream cone, had been donated to the Thronateeska Heritage Center years ago, but due to space concerns did not have a permanent display.
After basically sitting behind the Thronateeska office in the old train yard in downtown Albany for some time, the organization began renting the sign to groups for use at school reunions and other functions. Since many of those functions were being held at Merry Acres, which is owned by the Stewbo’s group, the sign has remained on the Merry Acres property for a number of months.
“We used to move it for them whenever someone would use it,” Henry said. “Every time it got moved, one of the old neon lights would get damaged, so we just agreed to keep it here on a trailer and take care of it.”
Henry went on to say that Thronateeska officials have agreed to “lend” the sign to Stewbo’s for use at the new restaurant, where it will be accompanied by a commemorative plaque.
Henry said Stewbo’s will work out a long term deal where they will continue to contribute to and support Thronateeska in exchange for continued use of the sign.
Stewbo’s owns and operates The Catch Seafood and Oyster Bar, Harvest Moon and Henry Campbell’s Steakhouse. The group is hoping the Arctic Bear will not only be another successful venture, but will also allow Albany residents a chance to revisit a bright spot from their past.
“A lot of folks have great memories of the Arctic Bear,” said Henry. “It’s pretty cool.”