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« Friday, April 30th, 2010—Bar 110 | Main | Traveling Day »

Thursday, April 29th, 2010—Bar 109

Day 109—Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Mike’s Tavern

First off, thanks again to Greg Batton and Dan Diorio for a great interview on WMBD 1470 AM, yesterday. After the interview, everybody I ran into had heard it. You can hear the podcast by clicking here: Marty on the Greg and Dan show.

And speaking of radio, I’m going to be on a former colleague of Greg and Dan’s on Friday. Sometime around 11:00 am I’ll be interviewed by WGN broadcaster, John Williams. Check out John’s online page here: John Willams on WGN and tune into the show at WGN Radio 720, live from Chicago at 11:00 am!

Also thanks for WMBD TV for interviewing me last night. I don't have a clip available, but when I do I'll post it.

Okay, on to today’s bar. Mike’s Tavern is a legendary bar in West Peoria. It’s been a bar in the same location, same building and same tin ceiling since 1938 and it was originally a stag bar. Gradually they allowed women to come in drink, but legend has it that when the female patrons complained that they didn’t have a bathroom, they gave them one, but it didn’t have a door on it. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that neighborhood joints like Mike’s are becoming few and far between in this world of cookie cutter bars and chain stores, so let’s go and enjoy this West Peoria Landmark while we can.

Mike's Tavern, a true original bar.

Nothing's changed in here, not that I expected it to.

Owner Tony Ward (right) with his friend, Joe (left). Tony has owned Mike's for the last 34 years.

Everything looks like an antique in here and that's a good thing.

My friend Dick Maurer drove me to the bar and this was his maiden visit. He was duly impressed with the joint.

Words to live by!

For a long time there were no stools or chairs at Mike's. Eventually they got these school desks for some of the older regulars to rest and enjoy their drink.

Tony showed me the one my Grandpa Seitz used to sit in, so I had to take a seat and a swig. To Grandpa Seitz!

The menu of the day. Sometimes they light up grills in the afternoon for burgers and dogs, but not today, so I had the ham and cheese sandwich with chips. It was delicious!

Here's Tom the bartender who's been at Mike's four about four years now.

The Little Nut Hut! I hadn't seen one of these in years!

Sara and Dan are regulars who were holding down the end of the bar.

I think this Budweiser knick-knack was made back when Ed McMahon was still the spokesman.

I love this Mike's sign, very cool!

And here's my good pal, Jim "Vern" Borho, who stopped by on his Harley to have a Canadian Club and join in the festivities!

Look, up at the ceiling, it's a bird...it's a plane...it's potato chips!

Speaking of ceilings, this is the original tin ceiling from the 1800's. It was originally white, but through the years nicotine has colored it different shades of brown.

Here's Scott the bartender and according to Tony this is only the third time he's smiled in his life! Thanks for the smile, Scott!

And now time for a bathroom break. Oh no, two handles...this could take a while. I better just say, "Thanks Tony and everybody who joined me today, goodnight everybody!"


Okay, I’m not going to write a review of Mike’s Tavern, if you want to read one, check out this one at the fine Peoria Nightlife and Bar Review website. Here’s their review: Mike's Tavern.

Okay instead of a review, I’d like to share a story with you about Mike’s Tavern.

My Grandpa Leo Seitz was a real character and one of my favorite relatives. The first bar I had ever heard of was Mike’s Tavern in West Peoria and that’s because Grandpa Seitz had been a regular since long before I was born. When I was five-years-old my family moved to Louisville, Kentucky and we would come back to Peoria for Christmas and stay with my Grandpa Seitz. One great memory of these trips was one where our cousins were over and we were all playing and watching my sister Terry and my cousin Danny Seitz in one of their legendary games of Risk in my Grandpa’s front living room. Grandpa Seitz said he was going to go out and get all of us some popcorn and to behave while he was gone. So we continued to play, but then the minutes ticked away into over an hour and then finally after quite awhile, Grandpa Seitz returned and was in a quite jolly mood.

“Where’s the popcorn?” We asked Grandpa Seitz excitedly.

Grandpa looked a little sheepish and then said in a beer-soaked breath, “Oh nuts, I forgot!”

We all laughed and even as little kids knew that he took a little beer break from his babysitting duties at Mike’s Tavern.

Through the years we had moved back to Peoria and if I would drive by Mike’s Tavern and gaze in awe at my Grandpa’s watering hole. I would always wonder what it was like in there. After nineteen years on this planet, I didn’t have to wonder anymore.

When I turned nineteen, the year was 1977 and I was knee-deep in punk rock. I had discovered the Ramones in 1976 and didn’t look back. My world now revolved around the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Adverts, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, The Damned and I even looked backwards to punk rock pioneers like Iggy and the Stooges and The Velvet Underground. It was also this fateful year that I could legally drink in bars in Peoria, Illinois. They had changed the drinking age to 19 that year and I had counted the days till I could legally drink in a bar. Not that I hadn’t drank in bars before then. Things were a lot more lax those days and my older brothers draft card had allowed me entree into bars since I had been sixteen. But there was something about taking my first drink legally, I couldn’t wait to experience. And the day...rather, the night, had come.

On my birthday night I had bounced around to about a half a dozen bars with a friend of mine when it hit me: Mike’s Tavern! I had to go and finally see this mythical bar that my Grandpa had spent a good chunk of his life. I never went there with a fake I.D. I don’t know why, but looking back, I think it was a combination of fear and respect. And when I say fear, I don’t mean fear of being caught with a fake I.D. but fear that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations and imagination of what this place must be like.

So we drove up to the gravel driveway, into the ramshackle bar with the sign, “Mike’s Tavern” adorning the top of the bar. We mustered up all the swagger we could and opened the door and moseyed up to the bar like we owned it. At least we thought we looked like that. In reality we probably looked like two little dorks trying too hard.

There were about four guys down at the end of the bar with the bartender on the other side of it. They all looked like crusty old guys to me, but in retrospect they were probably younger than I am now. I remember they didn’t look to happy to see my friend and I. Especially me, decked out in all my punk rock glory.

The bar itself was wooden and everything in the joint hanging from the walls and shelves looked like it had been there for decades. There were no stools at the bar, but a row of ancient wooden school desks lined the wall facing the bar. Smoke hung in the air like a nicotine crop dusting plant had just circled the inside of the tavern. It had the aroma of a joint where millions of cigarettes had been smoked and just as many beers drank and spilled on the ancient wooden floor. It was all I expected and more. I had never been in a bar like this in my life. I loved it. I remember thinking, “This is so punk rock!”

My thoughts soon were shattered as the bartender spoke after a few silent minutes sizing us up.

“What do you want?” The bartender said with a look on his face that was screwed up in several positions, and none of them happy ones. It wasn’t a pleasant sight. The other guys at the bar scowled at us like we were grotesque creatures that had just slithered in from an odious black lagoon.

“We’ll take a couple Budweisers,” I said.

“You have an I.D.?” He asked incredulously. I had a baby face at the time and looked all of 15-years-old barely going on 16.

I proudly flipped out mine and my friend his. He didn’t even notice it was my birthday but begrudgingly went and got two cans of Budweiser. I flipped a ten dollar bill on the ancient bar colored with beer stains that were probably spilled before my birth. The bartender brought the change and made his way back to his cronies who were still staring at us like we were exhibits in the Modern Museum of Natural Taverns.

I waited a few minutes and drank half of my beer before I threw out the magic question. I took a deep breath for courage and then shouted out to the crusty contingent down at the end of the bar: “You guys know Leo Seitz?”

One by one their mouths fell open and I think they all shouted out at once, “Yeah, how do you know him?”

“I’m his grandson,” I said, trying to smirk nonchalantly, but knowing me there was probably a shit-eating grin plastered there instead.

They all were stunned into silence except the bartender who slowly walked towards me saying, “You’re Leo Seitz’ grandson?”

I told him I was and then I told him my mom was Anne Wombacher (maiden name, Seitz) and soon the whole crew were down at our end of the bar telling me Leo Seitz stories and treating me like a long lost son who had finally made his way home. I told them the popcorn story before I left and the bartender said I was welcome back anytime.

So it was truly a pleasure to walk back in today and get the same welcome. Thanks Tony and everybody who joined me in there today, always a pleasure, indeed! Cheers to Peoria and to my Grandpa Leo Seitz! 

Mike’s Tavern

626 W. Cedar (near Rohman) West Peoria, Illinois

I don’t think they have a phone (there’s no listing) which makes it all the much more cool!

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Reader Comments (19)

OH Marty, That story about your grandpa is the best! It's a cool coming full circle kinda story.. I like that...
Thank you for sharing:)
When I turned legal I went to the corner shop and instead of getting carded I got asked out by the creepy guy that worked there..
Trust me I looked 15 not 21.. so it was even creepier..

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGidget

i agree with gidget, great story! and mike's is supercool! yay!

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrita r.

Great place, especially the ceiling tiles! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see a man about a cheeseburger.

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBiff

My dad owned the house across the street from Mike's for decades before he sold it to my sister who has since moved. However, in all those years, I never went in (being a girl and all) out of respect for the guy code. Seeing your post makes me think it's time for a visit! Your endeavor is one I admire and envy . . . and I really wish I had thought of it first! Good luck in Chicago, another great bar town!

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMo

drinking age down here is 18...funny story, i started playing 1st grade mens cricket at 13 in Bathurst NSW, at 15 i moved back to my home town of Mudgee NSW where i continued playing 1st grade....i started knocking round with my cricket mates there after the sat/sun matches, thats when i started drinking....well i was 6" 3' & i looked at least 19, plus my mates were all mid 20's/early 30's, so all the publicans assumed i was 18....it wasnt until 3 years later when me & me mates were on a pub crawl for my 18th birthday....the boys would hit each publican up to shout me a beer for me 18th birthday, the general reaction from each of the publicans was like "WTF fitzy you arsehole you've been drinkin here for years you prick"....but being good blokes they did shout me a beer for me b'day...thanks fellas!

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfitzy

oh yeah, Mikes is most definately my sorta bar....it won me straight up with the breakky drink sign, & the school chairs just rock very appropriate for when i transform into a school kid after 10 beers.....yep, jobs right Marty, another winner there mate!!

April 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfitzy

Considering the chairs in Mike's tavern the twisted part of my brain began visualising Cheech and Chong's Sister Mary Elephant serving the cronies their drinks and going; "Now class...Class...CALAASS...SHUT UP!! It's getting hard to find old school taverns like Mike's still around anymore, like New York and California. Minnesota seems to be doing everything it can to
Legislate places like Mikes out of existence. Long live the holdouts!

April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJaws the Cabbie

This place is soooooo cool, and I love the school tables! It brings a really good "old school" atmosphere!
I love your story about your grandpa! Thanks to share it with us!

My grandma always forbid to my grandpa to drink alcohool and to go to bars, so in his garage, he had a good stash for his beers!! And when I was 8 years old, I busted my grandpa drinking a beer in his garage, so he told me : "you wanna tast it?" !! I said yes and took a swallow of beer... then I noticed the naked women calendar on the wall, and he told me : they are my mistresses but don't tell anything to grandma! He took a 50Francs bill from his pocket and told me to get some candy to the store!!


Loving your memory lane crawl !!!
When I was in my teens , my Grandpa used to come over with Grandma to visit My Mom & Family on Sundays . I always played cards with him , we played rummy . I would always lose , it was alway close & I always need just 1 card to win , but I never got the card . This went on for many years , always lose by 1 card , but 1 Sunday that he came , we where playing our rummy game , & I was looking at his hands for some reason , & noticed white color between his fingers , & then realized he's palming a card , so I grabbed his hand , & there it was the 1 card I needed to win , for all these years he cheated & would palm the card I need , I was so mad , but it was Grandpa , & I stilled played & still lost . I miss him .

TO : Grandpa Leo Seitz!
TO : Grandpa"s

Holy crap. Are those Eveready "C" batteries next to the nut machine? I thought they stopped making those in the 80's.

April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Energizer Bunny

Now this joint is a real BAR!

April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarfly

What a wonderful place ! I wish I had a cool Grandpa story like that :(

April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGene

Thanks for stopping in! My dad (Tony Ward) really enjoyed your visit. Thank you for sharing the story of your grandpa, and your first visit to Mikes. It's the patrons who really make Mike's the special place that it is!

May 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Love the story Marty!!!

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTiki Bar Susie

Cheers to Grandpa Seitz!!

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTiki Bar Susie

Where is Danny Seitz? Our family THE BROWNS used to live down the road on Holling Drive. My brother Jim use to
play RISK all the time with Danny. Then we moved to Florida. I'm sure my brother would love to know where
he lives.

May 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa Tyo

@Teresa Tyo: I'll try to find out and send you an email, how funny that you know my cousin's and found this website! Very cool!

May 24, 2010 | Registered Commenter365 Beers

That is a great story about Mike's. I actually had no idea it was that old. I guess I kind of still fill like you did when you were 19. Every time I've been there I am always the youngest person in there by about a decade, so I haven't really manned up and inquired too much about its history. You definitely picked (IMO) the best bar in Peoria as one of your reviews. Email me the next time your in town, I've got some other places that would fit the bill. Oh yah and those Budweiser Clysdale things are just about everywhere in Peoria but they are still awesome.

May 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTheChief

I'll definitely send you an email, Chief, maybe we can do a dual blog, I like your website!

May 29, 2010 | Registered Commenter365 Beers

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