Friday, May 18, 2007

More Posts About Buildings and Food

The insidious restaurant meme got me thinking about places to eat that I used to love and can no longer go to because they no longer exist. As much as that meme was about recommending good places to eat, I think it was so successful because it was also about sharing stories about the places we eat. Even though you can't go back to these places, I'm going to share them anyway.

The Nighthawk, Charleston, IL
The loss of the Nighthawk is the most painful of these five, because it had the one thing that none of the others could ever have matched... a direct connection to the Uptowner, the only bar in Charleston worth hanging out in. You could enter through the front door of the Nighthawk, place your order, and go through the side door into the Uptowner. By the time you got your drinks and found a booth, someone from the Nighthawk would find you in the bar with your order. At the end of the night, you could place an order at last call, go back and finish your drinks, and then pick up your late-night munchies on your way out. It was a stroke of total genius.

The Nighthawk was a victim of bar expansion. They knocked out the connecting wall and added a few extra tables to the Uptowner. Looking back, it was the beginning of the end of the scene. The final nail in the coffin was the addition of the pool tables when they expanded into the space next door. Once the pool tables came in, the Cellar was always closed, the lights got a little brighter, the crowd started to change, and things were never quite the same. The last time I stopped by the Uptowner, it was just a little bit dismal. It made me sad.

Go back in time and try: A basket of sliders and a good import from the bar.

Sandwich Boy, Urbana, IL
Life without good sandwiches is not worth living. I'm sorry, Johnny, but you live a sad, pale sham of an existence. I weep for you. Because I once upon a time worked for the low-life scumbag who started Jimmy John's, I can't bear to spend money there. Imagine my unbounded joy when Sandwich Boy opened in downtown Urbana. Fabulous sandwiches; great sodas in the cooler; a cool old building; a funny, cool owner; ...and hours that made no sense at all. It was great for lunch, impossible to get to at any other time, and gone long before its time.

It's Siam Terrace now, and it's on my list of top 5 places to eat in Urbana. You win some, you lose some.

Go back in time and try: The Italian sub (the heart and soul of any good sandwich shop), some sea salt and vinegar kettle chips, and an ice-cold Sprecher. Pickle on the side, thanks.

Seoul Carryout, Champaign, IL
This dingy little hole-in-the-wall was in the basement of building on campus, right next to a bar that I never went to, and can't remember the name of. Right in the heart of campustown and below street level, it was flooded at least once a year when the Boneyard rose and it looked like they finally stopped trying to clean up afterward. Everything in the place had seen better days, including the two tiny tables, the mismatched dinette chairs, and the owner. There was absolutely nowhere to legally park anywhere around it, but I would regularly risk tickets and towing to stop in for his amazing food... and then take it someplace sanitary to eat it.

I have no idea what's there now. Because the U of I entrance requirements are not high enough to filter out students who are not smart enough to look both ways before crossing a street, the cities of Champaign and Urbana spent a lot of money to make the campustown streets as impassible as humanly possible, so I never go there anymore, and now that Seoul Carryout is gone, I don't really have a reason.

Go back in time and try: The intensely spicy Beef Bulgogi or the Bibimbab.

The Bermuda Onion, Champaign, IL
When I first moved to town, this was a cool little restaurant, right on the corner next to the Great Impasta (which was tiny then, it hadn't moved down the block to its spacious, up-scale new digs) and the Art theater. Everything was good, but the onion rings were to die for: inch-thick slices of Bermuda onion with a light, crispy batter. The booths were cozy, the service was good, and the food was excellent.

It's Nitaya Thai now, and it still has the same funky blue neon waves along the bottom of the windows facing Church Street, but they covered the Bermuda Onion logo painted on the building's west wall with a funky mural of their own.

Go back in time and try: catching a good movie at the Art and then stopping in for the Bermuda onion rings... and a tic tac.

The Falcon, Bloomington-Normal, IL
This one I don't really miss for the food. Or the service. Or the ambiance. But this was our hangover spot of choice at ISU, and I miss it. After a long, hard night and a couple of hours of sleep, we would drag ourselves to the Falcon to refuel and try to start another day. The ritual always started the same way: Ice water, big bottle of tylenol, silverware check. The last step was the most important. If you had the dirtiest silverware, everybody else at the table chipped in and covered your tab. It was just one of our rules.

The Falcon burned down in a grease fire. Twice.

Set the Wayback Machine and try: to find clean silverware. Just try. Then order the biscuits and gravy.

(More interviewy goodness on Monday...)


Johnny Yen said...

Great post. The Nighthawk was great. My friend Jamie was one of the cooks there.

When I was rooming with Bud, the Uptowner's manager, I never paid for a beer. It was great.

When I went down there in February, the Uptowner was pretty much a sports bar, and they never open the Cellar anymore.

I've been waiting for this post, so I can do a homage-- great Chicago bars that are no more.

Johnny Yen said...

And "sad, pale sham of an existence" indeed-- it's bad enough that I can't eat sandwiches-- you have to rub it in.

BTW, speaking of sandwiches, Wrangler's is gone. Loved their Pike Clubs. I don't know where the farmers in Charleston go for their biscuits and gravy at 3 am now.

lulu said...

JY--If you do Chicago bars that are no more, I hope you'll include Max Tavern. God I miss that place.

Johnny Yen said...

Lu- The Maxtavern was on Racine, near Diversey, wasn't it? Yes, it was great-- thanks for the reminder!

BeckEye said...

I haven't forgotten that you tagged me with that restaurant meme, by the way. I've just been very busy this week.

deadspot said...

Gratuitous verbal abuse is just of the many services we offer here at the Dead Spot, Johnny. That'll be 15,000 Won.

When you do your vanished bars, will there be G-Spot?

No rush, Becks. The restaurants will still be there... maybe.