Hanging Out in Rockford: Walkin' around downtown

On a Saturday night, I am restless. My place is packed for the second night this weekend, but I cannot get into the thing of hanging out with the customers. I decide to work it off with a walk. This is the night of the Red Ball, and I decided not to go. I walk around the neighborhood. The early evening is beautiful for this late in the year. My new neighbor, Peter—Peter, who is opening the coffee shop and bar across the street (Zambucca); Peter, who is the new owner of the building that once housed the Artery and Gallery Ten; Peter, who is painting the front of his store purple and black.

I loan him my grinder with the stainless brush to knock off a little of the flaking paint. Then I walk over to Studio 5 to have a glass of wine. Five, Five, Five, I remember the day we all met in Gallery 451, and we were trying to decide what to call our block. John and Marilyn Lamar were there. Then they still owned the building that is now the bar for Brio@Bacchus. And then Lola, crazy Lola, said, “It’s the fifth lot of the assessor’s plat of the East Rockford subdivision. Why don’t we call it Block 5?” And then it was done and it stuck. Now, my friend Sandi owns Digits, the nail salon that occupies the same space. She is doing a major overhaul and adding new lines of cosmetics.

Sitting in Studio 5, I tell the bartender this is the first time in 15 years every building in Block 5 has been occupied. Is it a sign of success? Only time will tell. The jukebox plays big band songs. Frank Sinatra, songs from another era. Kind of nice to hear in downtown Rockford on a warm night in the beginning of October. Reminds me of when Iggy used to sing at her bar in Little Italy.

From Gallery 5, I wander back across the street and toward downtown. I pass the Nash building, built in 1879, where my new neighbors Fred and Kuma are building an Asian restaurant and remodeling the upstairs into a beautiful loft apartment. My old cook, Marco, has been helping them, doing drywall. Fred really likes Marco; he is a hell of a worker.

Before the State Street bridge, I look across at Carlyle Brewing Co. It is packed. I wonder if their new pizza menu has anything to do with that, and I make a mental note to try the pizza soon. The flag atop the News Tower is blowing straight south, belying the warm temperature and reminding me that this weather will not last long. I try to stay in my Zen mode and remember to enjoy the day. I wonder if they will ever get another flag for the top of the Faust?

I wander into Paragon and sidle up to the bar. I ask Mary to pick me a glass of wine. I tell her I didn’t go to the Red Ball because it wasn’t in the River District. I tell her it is a kind of protest on my part, and I think it should have been at Paragon. It should have. The first glass of wine is too sweet for me, but I drink it anyhow. Mary buys me another. I think about when I went to the Red Ball with my friend Karen last year. and I was anxious about my impending bypass surgery. I got really drunk and abandoned her at the country club. Karen, who is turning the downtown Minglewood into a blues bar; Karen, who just got her special use permit (zoning) for liquor.

Walking out the back door of Paragon, I think of Joyce Serrano. I think about the day of her visitation and the fund-raiser everybody ran for her. I decide to see if the girls are open. I feel like a cheeseburger. Irene is watching the bar. Pretty soon, Anita walks through the door and back to the kitchen to make my cheeseburgers. (I order two.) I sit there eating cheeseburgers and think about all the times I have done this. Such a simple thing, and yet the kind of thing that doesn’t lose anything with time or doing it again. There is something so reassuring about a good cheeseburger on a warm night in the fall in a burgeoning downtown where I know everyone.

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.

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