Animal tales: Governor’s Restaurant in Lewiston gives people a chance to dine with the fishes

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LEWISTON — For children, they’re entertainment. For adults, a touch of serenity.

And pretty much every diner gets a kick out of interacting with fish that aren’t on the menu.

“Some people like to sit at the fish tank,” said Patrick Daly, who serves as host, waiter, cook and fish guide at Governor’s Restaurant. “We call it poolside.”

The Lewiston restaurant got its 135-gallon aquarium about 15 years ago from Governor’s founder Leith Wadleigh. A tropical fish hobbyist, he’d put tanks in his other restaurants. When Wadleigh decided Lewiston needed an aquarium, he sent over one of his own. The tank found a new home in the back of the main dining room, right under the electric toy train that constantly runs through the restaurant.

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Over the years, finned successors have quietly taken up residence among the plastic sea grass. Now the tank is home to eight fish, including a handful of blue-gray cichlids, a bright yellow cichlid, and a couple of algae feeders.

For staff, the large aquarium and its eight small inhabitants are work — but worth it.

“There are two things Governor’s is passionate about: people and pets,” restaurant General Manager Carlene Barnies said. 

Like the restaurant’s iconic electric train, the fish tank has become a draw for patrons, particularly children, who delight in pressing their hands against the glass and counting and naming the fish as they swim by. The yellow one is typically called Sunshine. The remaining names are up to the child’s imagination. 

“There’s always a Willy and a Nemo,” Barnies said.

The fish seem to like the attention, swarming the right side of the tank whenever someone approaches, eager to be fed. The restaurant allows children to toss food flakes or shrimp pellets into the tank with help from Daly or another staff member. 

The fish are so popular with children that Barnies balked when someone recently suggested taking out the tank. The aquarium is a lot of work for the staff, sure. The fish have to be fed and the tank has to be cleaned and regularly maintained. But Barnies wouldn’t hear of letting the aquarium go.

“I’m like, no. It’s worth it for the entertainment for the kids,” she said. “We have people sometimes even wait so they can get a table by the fish tank.”

And not just kids. Adults like to peer curiously into the tank or gaze from their tables as the fish serenely swim around.

The restaurant has been lucky with its fish longevity; it doesn’t have to get new ones often. But Barnies is considering filling the tank with tropical fish species that are more colorful and a little less prone to hiding among the rocks. If that happens, the current eight will go home with a staff member.

No matter who inhabits it, the tank isn’t going anywhere.

“I wish we had a couple more,” Daly said.

Have an idea for Animal Tales? Contact Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or ltice@sunjournal.com.

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