Hanging Out in Rockford: Grooving and walking

The first big summer weekend downtown has arrived, the weekend of the Groove Walk. Brett, Allison and I have made plans to video the entire event. Elisha calls to find out what I am doing Saturday night; it is her birthday. I tell her and invite her to come along. She and I are sitting at the bar at the Irish Rose waiting for the other two when I get a call from Megan Gallagher. She is without her kids and footloose and fancy-free. After some negotiation, she agrees to join us too.

We start at Big Cities, where I interview Nino. Big Cities is in the middle of a construction zone. The city is replacing a water line. The only way you can get there is to walk in. He reminisces about the last time they tore up East State Street. I had just started in business in the new location. I remember that they had the streets closed from all directions. It almost put me under. The only reason I survived is that Dr. Gupta forgave the rent while I was getting on my feet.

We walk back toward the Irish Rose, and Allison has a wonderful idea. We video her attempting to climb over the barricades. Then at the Irish Rose, Elisha interviews Molly Fleming. Molly makes a joke about flipping her lips at the camera, and I encourage her, but then she gives a fairly straight interview. From there, we walk next door to Bacchus, and Megan interviews Michelle. In front of Bacchus, we catch Becky Genoways for a quick stint on camera.

At The Office, most of the crowd is upstairs, and we climb the stairs only to find it too dark to video, so we settle for a scene of Elisha and Megan dancing. Then it is on to Little Italy, where we talk to Deb about her renovation project. We drag her outside to get her on camera. She is moving back into the original Italy and totally remodeling it. It is going to be called Deb’s Little Italy. Construction should start in a few weeks. After Little Italy, Elisha says she wants to celebrate on her birthday and she breaks off.

We walk west on State Street. The rest of the crew does C.J.’s. I wait by Carlyle Brewing Company. Don is standing out front with a stunning Hispanic woman. Good going Don. Megan interviews him. Then we are off like a bolt to the other side of the river. We decide that the rest of the crew should go to Kryptonite while I act as the advance man on Paragon. We had initially set up an interview with Rose, one of the regular bartenders, but I want to feature the sushi. When I get to Paragon, Larry Morrissey is hanging out at the sushi bar with Frank Schier. They are talking about walking over to Swilligan’s.

I get together with Mark and make arrangements for the sushi shoot. The crew arrives, and we watch and video Mark while we wait. He is putting together a very elaborate plate when I have asked for only a few items. I am thinking about this and remark to Megan that he is doing it for the presentation just as I would. His hands move like lightening as he assembles the different dishes. Then we shoot the finished product, and Allison interviews him as Megan mugs and eats sushi in the background. Afterward, our whole little crew consumes the wonderful sushi Mark has provided.

At Octane, I search in vain for Dan or Michelle. We cannot find them, so we settle for interviewing customers in the sidewalk cafe. Then we walk around to Swilligan’s and talk to Joey T. over the bar in the middle of the crowd and the rush. From there, we push to Gaspo’s, where I conduct an interview with a lovely lady I do not know and whose name unfortunately I cannot remember. I ask her to marry me.

The last stop on our route is Tom’s Tap. I wander into the bar and ask for the owner. The volunteer working the door directs me to a man behind the bar. I ask him if he will come out front to be interviewed. He tells me his name is John and that he has just purchased the bar. It is no longer called Tom’s Tap; it is now called J Bear’s. Allison Is interviewing this person, and I keep looking at him. All of a sudden, I realize that this is John, who worked for us at Freeport Raceway when Jim Hughes, Jim Loring and I had the concessions. He was only 12 years old. Welcome to the downtown restaurant and bar community, John.

After all the walking, after going back to the Rose to replenish ones and quarters, after one of the biggest days I have ever had in business, I walk over to Serrano’s. Thankfully, Joyce is outside of the craziness. I really could not sit in a crowded environment at this point. It is nice to find one island of sanity. I have three or four margaritas. I am so tired that I bum a ride back to the Rose.

I haven’t had supper, so I have Christa get me some eggs from the kitchen. Upstairs in my apartment, I scramble them and sit in front of the television slowly eating the eggs. Then, for some reason, I cannot sleep. It is 4 or 5 in the morning before I close my eyes. I awake at 8 a.m. to the sounds of the Mexican boys washing the ceiling downstairs. I get up to do the cash boxes. It is another day.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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