Hanging Out In Rockford: The last dance—part one

I am going to postpone the second part of my column, “On a clear day you can see the Mississippi,” for reasons that will become obvious (I hope). Parry and Mike Donze are leaving town. They are leaving us for Florida. My son Drew, upon hearing this, says in an email that all the good people get Rockforded out. That might be true; I have been feeling a little Rockforded out myself of late. Maybe it’s just my road being closed. Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t had a girlfriend in a couple of years. Maybe it’s hmmm…

The choices

Mike, Mike, Mike; So begins the e-mail from a former employee, Sarah, the microbiologist who went back to Ithaca, N.Y., to fix up her house to sell. She says t she will be in Rock City for the Rock City Festival. “I imagine it will be a gorgeous day for a motorcycle ride and you should be certain to hit our fair town on its biggest day, July 17th… A day in Rock City… sprinkled with hot air balloon rides, cake walks, Rockin City Palooza, plenty of trash to eat, and a get down boogin’ street dance following the sunset fireworks. We’ll be camping out and it sure would be lovely to see you there. It will be a partay ‘Almost Sarah Style,’ which I am sure you have never experienced.”

Then I find out about the Wristers scheduling their last gig at The Rose on the same night, and my head is spinning. Scott Cain is sitting at my bar on Tuesday afternoon. I have just returned from the market. He has produced beautiful color posters featuring Mike and Parry. (I remind myself that I want to get one for my TV room.) The poster says it is the last dance. I tell him that I had been thinking of the last waltz after the famous album by the Band. He says it’s not too late to change the poster, but after I think about it, I think the last dance is maybe even better.

Everyone is making plans for that night. Elizabeth, my waitress, is also going to Rock City. She went last year and asked for the day off more than a month ago. I tell her that it reminds me of the scene in Tom Robbins’ book, Skinny Legs and All, where they are going to have a Super Bowl party. Sabrina is going to dance the dance of the seven veils in another room on the same day. The customers cannot make up their minds about where they want to go. I feel like one of the customers. My mind is on overload.

I e-mail Sarah back saying that I will have to attend both functions, probably doing the Rock City thing early and finishing up at the Rose. My son scolds me in an e-mail and says good-byes are forever and I will have another chance to visit Rock City, but I am even more determined. I think about what a great article it will make. My mind is (almost) made up.

The past

We (23 or so years ago) open the Old Rock River Café and our lunches are booming. The unemployment in Rockford is at 27 percent, but that has absolutely no effect on our lunch trade. Every day, people stand in line to eat our California deli sandwiches and specials. We open for dinner, and it starts to catch on, but slowly. Needing additional revenues, I suggest to my lovely ex-wife and partner that we should try doing music on the weekend nights. She replies that she has seen this band, PeeWee & the Wristers, in the basement of the Faust and that she would like to book them. Thus begins 20 years of the Bean booking bands, Rockin’ Robin.

Bands and lunch form the early part of our success. We often have 1,000 or more customers on a Friday or Saturday night in the State and Madison building. We operate seven bars simultaneously on some of those nights; endless nights upstairs with our friend and one-time partner Bruce Hammond; Pockets with my old friend Jim Hughes; The Blue Room where for a while we feature exotic dancers; the bar at the pool hall desk; the bar in the basement where we sometimes feature bands; the Old Rock River Café bar on the corner with its 30-foot Italian marble counter left over from the antique drug store that had originally been there; and The Irish Rose on Madison Street from whence we took the name for our present operation.

The biggest act, however, and we have many really big acts, is always the Wristers. Rockford’s second oldest (as far as we can determine) band, second only to Cheap Trick. Out of the Wristers flow other groups—the Hillworms, The Blues Police, etc., but it always comes back to the Wristers. When you come home, come home to the Wristers. Come home this Saturday night. I’ll be there, right after Rock City.

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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