Hanging Out in Rockford: Having parties

By Mike Leifheit

My friend Sandi is having her 50th anniversary party this Thursday night (Medicine Man). It doesn’t seem possible, but I guess it is. I’m sitting here at my computer thinking about when I moved in here 20 years ago. Doug Busch remodeled that space initially. He was one of the reasons I wanted to move into this space. He found this great old building that used to be a drug store in the late 1800s. Doug had some schooling in architecture, and he wanted to show off.

Show off he did. The loft he built is one of the three or four nicest in the city. I can only compare LuLu Watts’ or Deb Newton’s old place. Oh, or now Don, Kyle and Margie’s places. Oh, and then there is the loft above Runner’s Image; I used to live there when it wasn’t so fancy. I had some of the best times of my life in that old apartment at 219 E. State St. (I was young, single, and the choices of roommates were interesting. My best memories of Rockford are from when I lived in that apartment. I owned the State and Madison, and it was the biggest bar in town. Perhaps the biggest bar ever. We used to have 1,500 people in the place on a good night. Some of you old-timers out there let me know about your places. I’m thinking about Maggie’s Pub or the Illinois Purchase, among other names.)

And then, there are some wonderful lofts in the Madison/Market area. Susie Kaufman’s is outstanding. Unfortunately, Susie isn’t finishing out her days in her loft as she planned. (She told me she put in the elevator because she knew she would get to a point where she couldn’t climb stairs.) Now, Susie is in a nursing home. I plan to make a visit on my motorcycle when the weather gets nice. There’s also a great loft over the old sheet metal building.

And then, on the other side of the river, there is Hans Rupert’s building, which I have not seen. Judging by his old apartment in the Brewery, it’s gotta be pretty cool. Dave Casazza’s, atop the Talcott Building, has the best view in the city. I guess it is a lot more than three or four, but you are starting to get the idea. I fear now who I have left out.

But back to Sandi’s building…it is flanked on two sides by storefronts that are part of the original building. Or, I guess a better way to say it is that it is all one building, as is the Irish Rose building, with the dining room of Brio. The first storefront was an upholstery shop when I moved down here 20 years ago. (In the 1800s, it was a drug store and then a harness shop.) Then, it became Gallery Ten. (It was about this period of time that we had a meeting in Gallery 451, what is now Sandi’s commercial space next door, and Lola Lee Harris christened the area Block 5.) Then, the first space was The Artery. Those were really good times. Then, it was Zambuca, now it is Bamboo. Whew!

Sandi’s commercial space, which when I moved down here was the Goodwill store, next was the aforementioned 451, then I think an antique shop, then a nail salon, and a few other versions of the same (which, incidentally, has generated other businesses in the area), finally evolving into its present upscale fashion shop, Privileges, and nail salon, Scratch.

The storefront on the east side is easier. It was Lawson’s art supply for years. Then, it turned into 5 Spa, which it remains to this day. I don’t know what it was in the old days.

Sandi conned me into supplying some goodies for her party. She says we need to start having parties like we did in the old days. I couldn’t agree more. I think she got Frank Calvanese and Paul, too. I am making homemade Bangers. I’m going to serve them with cooked onions and dijon mustard on soft hot dog buns. Then, I really lost my head and volunteered potato salad. What could I have been thinking? Sandi is right. We need to start having parties again.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the March 31-April 6, 2010 issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!