Day 109—Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
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!
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!
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!