Hanging Out in Rockford: The ‘North End’—part one

Life is funny. You think you have put something or someone out of your head, you haven’t thought about it for a month, and then, for no particular reason, you think about it twice in the same day. You had put it behind you knowing it could never turn out well. Later that same day, she appears. It leaves you scratching your head and wondering: Did you cause it, or was it just a coincidence?

Thursday night, I am thinking about getting back to writing a column. I decide that I am too tired to do my little adventure this night. I’ve been awfully busy lately. My new tenant in Rockton has taken up a lot of my time. I promise I will get the restaurant on line for the Health Department inspection as part of my side of the deal. This requires most of my free time. Friends accuse me of neglecting them.

Friday, I still have some work in Rockton, but I hit a point where I can take a break, and so Friday night I set out to wander the North End. I park my car behind JT’s Bourbon Street Grille, because that is where I plan to finish. I am going to have the barbecue chicken. I walk around the closed Paesano’s and cross the street to the closed North End Coffee Shop. I am going to miss Lu Ann and Dana. I peek in the window. The tables and chairs are all there. Everything looks the same. I wonder where Kerry buys his morning coffee now.

I walk around the back and farther up the block to The Barn. The Barn is the most laid-back bar this side of Guerneville (on the Russian River), Calif. The back porch is totally overgrown with ivy, and the slight sag gives it a homey feel. Inside, nothing has changed since Jane Jones, Lynn Soper and I used to go there when we were teaching at Roosevelt Middle School. I like it when nothing changes.

Paul, the owner, looks pretty much the same, too. Oh, maybe a little older, but still pretty much the same. I see little Nello at the pool table, and he says his dad is working next door. That was one of the reasons I planned this little journey. David Dale is standing down at the other end of the bar and, after a brief conversation with Paul’s wife Julie, I make my way there, and he buys me a glass of wine.

I see a familiar face, and I call to Paul to see if he remembers the person’s name. There were two guys in the Old Rock River Café days who looked exactly alike, so much so, people were constantly confusing them. One of them was known as Hambone, and he had a blues band called Wavy Gravy. I used to say I had the best night I ever had when they played one night, and I had the worst night I ever had when they played another. But I can’t remember his name, and now I am asking Paul, and he doesn’t know, but he walks over to the fellow and relates what I have said. I see the fellow shaking his head “yes” and smiling.

I walk over, and we talk over old times. His name is Jim Cera, and he is an engineer here in town. He tells me he and Hambone had their picture taken together. They were both English and Italian and, perhaps, that accounted partly for their looking like twins. I go back to collect David and, together, we walk next door to Leisure Tyme. I have heard that Nello Celletti is there, and I want to see him.

Nello walks right up to me, and shakes my hand as we enter the bar. He apologizes as he is just leaving, but sits and talks for a while before he does. Then, David and I wind up at the other end of the bar and, again, David buys my drink before I can say anything about it. I argue about paying, but he is a regular, and the bartender takes his side over mine. An old student of mine, a woman, wants to talk to me about when I was her teacher at Roosevelt. The fellow she is with seems mildly perturbed by the conversation.

More next week.

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 July 26-Aug. 1, 2006, issue

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