It seems like every small town has the local hangout, the place where kids and adults alike can go, grab something to eat, and kill some time with friends. 20thÂ century Carson City had a few contenders for the title – the Pine Cone Cafe and Carousel Drive-In among them. But probably the winner, and the one still most fondly remembered today, is the Penguin Burger.
The Penguin was located at the corner of Carson and Sophia. As the sign says, they served burgers, tacos, hot dogs, and a variety of ice cream. In a town that was increasingly being dominated by fast food chains, the Penguin stood out as serving excellent food made with local recipes and fresh ingredients. Facebook is full of reminisces about the Penguin, and everyone remembers it as having the best burgers, the best tacos, the best ice cream.
The Penguin has a long history on this corner, before it was even called by that name. Â A newspaper article claims it first opened in 1952 as a Dairy Queen.Â Later Dairy Queen moved south to the corner of Fifth and Carson and this place was rechristened the Dairy Kone. They even repurposed the Dairy Queen sign, attaching a piece of sheet metal with the word “Kone” to the old sign. As the Dairy Kone it shows up in the background of several other old pictures of that part of town. In one undated photo it even looks abandoned. Sometime later, not sure what year but probably in the late 60s or very early 70s, it was rechristened as the Penguin, and the same old sign was repurposed again. They kept the giant ice cream cone on the roof but replaced the one on the sign with the Penguin mascot.
But nothing lasts forever. In 1997 the Penguin closed for good. There were hopes of someone else picking up the building and reopening, but those were dashed when the building was torn down and paved over a couple of years later. Still to this day that corner remains as nothing more than overflow parking for the gas station next door. Occasionally you’ll see a food truck parked on the corner, but mostly driving by just brings fond memories and sadness for what was lost.
In the summer of 2016 that corner is full of cones of a different sort, construction cones as new sidewalks are put in and the street repaved. Rumors abound on Facebook that the owners of the AM/PM want to capitalize on the nostalgia and are planning on rebuilding the Penguin, but it’s hard to tell if that’s just wishful thinking. For now all we have are 20-year-old memories of a neon penguin beckoning us to a place we can never again visit.
The Penguin was most well known for the tacos. In addition to the great tacos, the Penguin gave a number of young ladies in
Carson City an opportunity for that first job, other than babysitting. I remember stopping there after finishing a day working my first job at Ed’s Texaco – now the Shell Station next to the R/R Depot on Carson Street. I’d have a couple of tacos before going home to eat dinner with the family. That was back in 1974. Full service gas stations gave a number of us Carson City boys an opportunity to learn a solid work ethic and those who employed us provided more than just gasoline to the community. The Penguin, Carousel Drive In, and A & W Root Beer Stand did the same for many of Carson City’s girls in addition to providing the opportunity for a place to get something to eat.
Thanks Scott for the walk down memory lane.
My parents owned the Penguin in 1963 and 1964. I worked ther my senior year. Maggie and Elly Wood made the First tacos there. Totally fun Year’s. JoAnn Wood.
I worked there, only 2 weeks . Best burgers ever. The girl that was cooking didnt like me, very rude to me.she told the owner something, i dont know. i was told later by some nice gals i worked with that i was doing fine. Oh well , chalk ut up to experience. Im proud to say I worked there even if it was only 2 weeks. That was 1975.
I loved working there I was the girl making that shack in the paper miss the good old days and yes was my first job love to all the penguinets cora.
In the early 70’s, my parents wouldn’t let us hang out at the Penguin. It was across the street from the bowling alley and sometimes had some not so nice people hanging out there. Instead, we all went to the DQ on Fifth and Carson. I ended up working there beginning in 71 (at 13). My fellow coworkers and I loved to watch the people cruising Main Street after the football games. (There was a large window right on the corner.)
I remember when I was a young boy going to the Penguin and Dairy Queen on 5th & Carson for chocolat dip cones or Dilly Bars. At the time, the Carson Pool was outdoors and on the west side of the Community Center – the space is now occupied by a parking lot. 🙁