Saturday, September 17, 2016

We walk into a bar in Illinois

Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar, Galesburg, Illinois
Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar, Galesburg
For the first time time on this trip, we went to a bar we had visited before, but the last time we were here we didn't drink. More accurately, we didn't drink alcohol. We had sparkling cider and probably water. Frankly, the beverages weren’t the chief thing on our minds because it was, after all, our daughter's wedding day.

Paige and Grant chose to have their wedding reception at Cherry Street because it had been a regular hang-out in their dating years. They were students at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and Cherry Street is an easy walk from the campus. They visited the restaurant together during their junior year. Grant ordered the Prime Rib sandwich, and they were happy to discover it was a huge steak on Texas toast for a quite reasonable price. Paige said that as a college students access to good, cheap steaks made them feel like  “they had hacked the universe”.  

photo courtesy of Grant and Paige Lowe
Grant’s 21st birthday was one of a number of special events celebrated at Cherry Street, but the big one for both of them was their wedding reception. (Paige’s bachelorette party was there as well.) Paige and Grant had decided to get married the day after their college graduation while friends and family were still in town. Cherry Street is closed on Sundays, but it’s possible to rent the place and have catering for special occasions.

At the reception the food was good, but this blog is about bars, you need to know that for the toast Grant and Paige chose sparkling cider, because Jil, Paige’s maid of honor, wasn’t yet 21. Still, when I asked Paige what she most appreciated about Cherry Street, she said, “It’s mostly about the steaks.”

wing night at Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar, Galesburg, Illinois
This time, we went to Cherry Street on a Wednesday night, very excited to know in advance that it was chicken wing night: fifty cents a wing. When we arrived, most of the tables were taken, and the wait staff was busy. We found a couple of seats together at the bar.  Nancy, the bartender, greeted us and told us about the dollar drinks specials (which included a variety of shots, draft beers, and mixed drinks including the Whiskey Sour I ordered). As other people came to the bar, they said, “Hi Nancy,” and she greeted them by name.

The Red Sox and the Orioles were playing mutely on some TVs and Penn and Teller were playing silently on others. Classic rock was playing (Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girls” and the Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand” were two songs I noticed.)

Mindy ordered a hard orange soda, and we ordered a dozen chicken wings, salad, and onion rings; after a minute or two, we realized that our waitress was Cherry Street’s owner, Lou. She bought the bar and restaurant six years ago. She’d been a bartender before, but this is the first place she’s owned.

We talked with her about some of the unique features of owning a bar in a college town. She said that during her first year at Cherry Street she felt very close to a number of the students. They asked her to come to the graduation. She said, “I went to the graduation and sat in the first row and cried.” And then they were gone. After that she decided not to get too involved  in students’ lives. After all, students can’t usually become bar customers until their junior year and then they only have one year remaining.

But she said the local young people have “discovered the restaurant side,” and she said she’s been focusing more on that side of the business for the past couple years.

We asked Lou our standard bar questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?”

She said that what she looks for in a bar is “atmosphere, for one.” She wants a place “that makes you feel comfortable.” For her, that includes dressing casually and not dealing with an uppity, formal environment. In addition, “the clientele for sure” helps make a bar a place she’d like to be. She also spoke of how helpful it, is as an owner, to have been a bartender. “It’s great. You’ve been in their shoes and understand where they’re coming from.”  She said their customers appreciate the food and drink specials at Cherry Street, and they “love taco Monday.”

Lou doesn’t go to church. She mentioned living in Utah for several years. (“Good luck getting into a church there,” she added.) She told us, “I would say if I had to be a religious person I’d be a Buddhist” because of the way the tradition had been explained to her by a Buddhist friend.

Mindy talked to Blaine, who was sitting next to her at the bar.  He’s recently returned to work after being away due to his health. He told Mindy, “I work in a bar -- I’m a bartender at Duffy’s across the street. People want to be comfortable where they go in. Duffy’s is a laid-back, quiet place. Places like this (Cherry Street) have good food. Meeting new people is always a nice thing for me.”

Mindy asked him about church. “I don’t go anymore, which is a shame.” One reason he doesn’t go, he thinks, is because “churches are different nowadays.” He doesn’t like mega-churches,  but spoke fondly of growning up in the Methodist church. “I like a church to be family-oriented, where they do things in the community.” He reminisced about watching all the people in his childhood church walking down the aisle to take communion., contrasting it with a large church he’d visited more recently. “It looked like a shopping mall inside. It was huge. It didn’t seem personal enough for me.”

I talked to a young guy at the bar named Josh. He said he’s drawn to a cheap bar with the appropriate attractions. Important to him is finding a healthy ratio of women to men. A good atmosphere in a bar is primarly supplied by the staff, he said; in a fancy place or a dive, it all depends on the attitude of those who serve you. The staff may just pretend to be friendly to get a good tip, but it is much better to be in a place where the staff seems to want to talk to you. If the bartender wants to have a conversation, “that’s a beautiful thing.”

When I asked Josh what makes for a good church, he said he doesn’t believe in anything but supports people going to church if it makes them feel more complete. “My Mom’s a die hard Christian. I’ve read the Bible, and it’s a good story, but it’s complete B.S.”

He said that he did appreciate a church he went to with his ex-girlfriend. “Some Christians say God will never give you more than you can handle, but this pastor said, ‘Sometimes you get more than you can handle in life.’ They tried to bring Christianity close to reality.”

He has no patience for Satanism or those who try to make Star Wars a religion. “I like the Golden Rule and when religions try to teach people to be good.” We spent some time talking, and I told him about churches we’d encountered on the trip and why I think the Bible is true.

Until we get back to California, I doubt we’ll have another chance to return to a bar. But I’m glad we had a chance to go back to Cherry Street.

1 comment:

  1. If you go to this website:

    Scroll half way down, you will see a young Barack Obama, who was running for the Senate, along with Congressman Lane Evans in Cherry Street.