Hanging Out in Rockford: Hanging with neighbors on the block

We open the Irish Rose every day at 4 p.m., or at least we open the bar—the kitchen opens at 5 p.m. While I’m waiting for things to get started, I usually walk down the street to one of the other places in the block. Sometimes, I go to Bacchus for a cup of coffee. They, like we, have really good coffee. Sometimes, it is a glass of wine. More often than not, it is a glass of red wine.

I wander out the front door; I never wear a coat. If I do, I’m more than likely to forget it. A lot of times, I head for Little Italy. Either Matt or Ritchie’s daughter, Amy, will be bartending. Amy is living in the back apartment above the Irish Rose, the one our mayor used to live in when he first came back to town.

Lately, however, I have been stopping one door sooner, sometimes at the old 505 location, which was called at different times Deli Italia, Salon 5, etc. They made a joke about it in their ad, all the different names it has had. Tonight, the new owner is there, Nello Cellitti. Tonight, the new sign is up. Tonight, it is called the Casbah.

Nello came into the Irish Rose. He came in because he heard I had been stopping by. He came in because he understands the value of neighborhood. He and his sometimes bartender Frank sat at the bar, and I made them our new fried oysters. Nello said he would like to go to Chicago with me; that he would like to go to the market. I told him I would like nothing better.

While he was sitting there eating oysters, he told me the new name for his bar; while he was sitting there, he said, “Casbah.” It was the name of the bar his father owned. I remember the name, I tell him, but more than that, one of the old cold cases, one of the cases I brought with me when I moved from the Old Rock River Café, one of the cases came from the Casbah.

I love this kind of serendipity. It seems to have surrounded me since I moved to this building. When I was 5 years old and broke my wrist in the first grade, Uncle Frank picked me up in an old Dodge pick-up truck and drove me to where my mother was working; working for Anderson Brothers’ Sand and Gravel; working in the apartment where I now live.

I didn’t know until I took my mother to see the new place. We pulled up in front, and she said, “Oh, that’s Anderson Sand and Gravel. I was working there when you broke your arm.” A flood of memories swept through my brain. Suddenly, I had a distinct recollection of driving up in front with Uncle Frank. Now, the building has brought Nello’s father’s cooler to the block, and now it has brought Nello.

Friday night, Dan Voll is playing at the Casbah. There hasn’t been music there since it was 505. It’s nice to have music back in the block on a Friday night. Friday early, I take my little walk. Nello is behind his bar. He hands me a Register Star article about Kryptonite being remade into the Krypto Show Lounge. He wonders out loud what it would take to get an article about his new business. I don’t know, I tell him, but I can write my column about him, I say.

Then, the hot bartender shows up; I think her name is Nicole. Nello goes on to other things, and I am talking to Nicole. She says she would like to stop at the Irish Rose about 7 the following evening and have an appetizer and a drink. Of course, I agree. I would like to just sit and look at her. She is very young and very beautiful.

Saturday night arrives. I don’t really expect her to show, but I am waiting anyway. She doesn’t arrive. Seven o’clock comes, and goes. I mention this to a friend I am sitting with, and he says women are always late. At 8 p.m. or so, I give it up and go upstairs.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Jan. 18-24, 2006, issue

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