Ramblings from Reggie: A year in the bar business, and saying goodbye to a friend

It has been almost a year since I bought Swilligan’s from my old friend Paul. Paul and I go way back, as old baseball players and childhood friends. He was a gifted shortstop, and I was the always-dirty catcher. We made lifelong friends back in the days of parks being manned by district personnel, and baseball tourneys and knock hockey tourneys participated in with equal enthusiasm.

Pete Cassioppi from Rockford East was one of our main umpires, and because of our friendship from those days, he let me out of a couple of classes while the Yankees were in the playoffs. To this day, the family calls me “Summertime” because I would show up the day school got out and disappear the day school started. I almost renamed Swilligan’s to Summertime’s.

Paul and I are polar opposites with regard to our sports teams. I’m a Packers/Yankees/Miami fan, and he is a Bears/Red Sox/Notre Dame guy. There was some Cincinnati Red love from him in his youth, though.

A couple of weeks ago, Paul’s world was shaken by the death of his brother. I can’t imagine his grief knowing how close he was to Mike. The lines were long at the visitation for Mike, deservedly so. Mike was a great guy with a fantastic family from his wife, son and daughter to his mom, dad, Paul and their sisters. It’s hard to find better people. It was almost more than I could bear seeing them in the reception line at the service. I can’t imagine the strength that takes. Mike and I did some crazy things together as teens and in our early 20s, as most kids do. Mike always had the quality of being a leader. His entire aura commanded respect and accountability. That’s the thing I will always remember about Mike. Mike, we’ll miss you, and to the rest of the family, my heart is with you.

A year in the bar business—that’s almost like purgatory from what I understand of the concept. Everyone I know asked if I was crazy when I announced my plans. It seems there are some things in life that eat at you, and you just have to do once.

Owning a bar was one of those things for me. I bought Swilligan’s for the fun of it and to have a little hobby.

As I reflect on a year, there have been many fun times and many new friends. Leaving work every day and heading down to the Pub always turns enjoyable for me. The same usual suspects are normally there. Gary is our bar historian, who has had to advise five or six owners over the years. He’s grandfathered into Old Styles at 1980 prices for his loyalty and advice. Terry usually stops by after a hard day butchering animals at Noble’s. And let’s not forget Ray, who is our staff watchdog. Mess with the girls, and you get an ex-biker gang member with an attitude up in your craw. Don’s there after waxing floors for days and days. We have many regulars whom we appreciate, like Jeff, who loves to stop in and discuss politics.

People tell me every day what a cool bar Swilligan’s is, and I appreciate it and agree. I am lucky to have most of the same staff from a year ago, and they do a terrific job. I can’t say enough about Jenny and Sheila, who are the glue and do what it takes to make us successful.

You won’t want to miss the Oct. 4 “One-Year Celebration.” It will feature some cool things throughout the day, and Miles Nielsen and HMS at night. Miles is also going to be bringing some guests and some very, very special guests to play with him that night. You won’t want to miss that night. No kidding, don’t miss that night. Really, don’t miss it!

Mike Leifheit stopped by last week, and we always seem to get on the same theme. We need to get the entire downtown bar owners together and sponsor a “come downtown night”—Tuesday/Wednesday with everyone participating and kicking in ad money for the campaign. Let’s make Tuesday night “Must Go Downtown Night.” We’ll do unbelievable food/drink specials, and have a big party each week. E-mail me at thepub@insightbb.com.

Time does fly by, but many things remain the same. Blago is still an idiot, Bush is bunkered in, and the jail tax is still 50 percent too high. But life moves on, and we’ll keep fighting the fight. Thanks to all the loyal Swilligan’s customers and all the loyal readers. It’s been a year, and I have met a lot of great people. I’m grateful for that.

Reggie Roberson is owner of Swilligan’s “The Pub,” 200 N. Church St.

from the Sept. 26 – Oct. 2, 2007, issue

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