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

David Dale and I are leaving the Leisure Tyme when I notice Bella sitting with Little Nello on the other side of the bar. I walk back to say hi to her. David waits for me in the alley outside; I can see him through the glass door. I rejoin him, and we walk through the traffic on Auburn Street to Table 13. I am struck by how old David and I are now, and when we get inside and sit at Juleann’s bar, I joke about how they had to avoid hitting us because we are two old guys.

In walks Tony Artale, and again I am not allowed to buy. I am getting hungry. I order the bruschetta, and I am impressed when Jewel Ann says it correctly in the Northern dialect; that is unusual in Rockford. I am impressed by the olive tapenade on the bruschetta, too. I get tired of everyone thinking bruschetta means chopped tomatoes. It’s toast, for cripe’s sake.

David says goodbye and takes off. Toni and I sit and talk. Juleann shares some of my appetizer. Unexpectedly, David comes back with friends. Then, I say my goodbyes, too, and set out down the street. I have several more places to go. I walk down to Der Rathskeller. We used to go there a lot when we lived just down the street behind St. Mary’s Cemetery. I worked at Rockford Nehi RC. We were North-siders.

I sit at the beautiful bar in Der Rathskeller and order a martini, my first strong drink of the evening. I don’t feel tipsy at all, and now I have confidence I can finish my journey. I try to pay for my drink, but Mike, the owner, is there, and he has already paid for it. So far tonight, I haven’t paid for anything. I am feeling a little uncomfortable about that.

Then, I cross the alley behind the old Jungle Jim’s. I have some wonderful memories every time I pass here. I remember all the years that this place provided outstanding atmosphere. I copied the layout at the Irish Rose from this bar. I wanted it to be all one room with the bar prominent so everyone could see their friends when they first walked through the door.

I enter the North Main Tap, and Bobby isn’t here, but I do see Frank and Sheri, and they immediately want to buy me a drink. I laughingly accept and tell them about not being able to buy a drink all night long. This makes for a perfect story. I decide to lay off the martinis, especially here where they pour so heavily. Donna, the bartender, fixes me a gin and tonic.

Then, it is back to the alley and down to JT’s Bourbon Street Grille. I walk through the door and am impressed by the mixed-race clientele. It’s time something like this happened in Rockford. A pretty good band is playing, and then, there she is, the person I had thought twice about. She says hi as she passes by me with her friends. I try to figure out which guy she is with; I think it is the tall one.

I sit at the bar and order a drink. I have been warned that while the food is good, the service tends to be slow. At least in my case, that isn’t so. I have barbecue chicken, baked beans and cole slaw. The cole slaw is good, creamy and sweet. The barbecue sauce is a little thick for my taste. The beans are well made, obviously homemade. I sit there eating my chicken, and life doesn’t seem too bad. We would have wound up hating each other anyhow. I finally get to pay my own bill.

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 Aug. 2-8, 2006, issue

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