By Mike Leifheit
I’m sitting at my little bar. Frank Schier is at my big bar, but only about one or two stools away from me. We are conversing with a friend of ours. The friend, who spends a lot of time on the computer, raises the subject of my no longer writing for The Rock River Times. He says people are speculating on Craigslist about why I am no longer putting out a column every week.
Some of them thought Frank had finally gotten tired of my BS. (Could be some truth to that, sometimes I get tired of his, too.) There was another something-something, equally ridiculous. I remember Frank smirked about whatever it was. People will always speculate about things. Usually when they do, they are wrong.
The TV folks are getting out of their van. They are in a big rush. I am sitting with two friends who are having sausage and peppers for lunch in the sidewalk café. I overhear the crew saying something about the oil spill affecting seafood. I almost choke on my Coca-Cola. I predict to my friends that they will probably get everything wrong. I decide to stay out of it. The television crew rushes breathlessly by with a ton of equipment.
When you get to be an old guy, you get to see a lot of things twice. Sometimes, you even get to see them three times or four times. When I first opened (fairly successfully) in my present location 20 years ago, we were the subject of a news story. One of the television stations came to the new Irish Rose. At the time, there was a lot of turmoil about the perceived relative value of the east and west sides of downtown.
The announcer asked me if I would have done what I did on the west side. I said no. She questioned me again, rephrasing it as, “On the other side of the river.” I said, “Oh! I thought you said the west side. To me, the west side is the city-county building west. Downtown is downtown. Of course I would have done this on the other side of the river—it is still downtown!”
That night, I saw myself on television saying I wouldn’t have done this on the west side—period. But they had an agenda. They wanted the people to know the west side wasn’t as good as the east side. And they didn’t care who they had to misquote to prove it. It was their perceived problem, and they wanted you to know about it. They were doing good, or journalism, or something.
Oh, by the way. We took shrimp and swordfish off the menu at the Rose three or four months ago. Before there was a spill! We did it over issues of sustainability and freshness. I had decided after seeing a number of chefs across the country move in the direction of fresh, sustainable fish, to give it a try myself.
It started with being criticized for having shark on my menu when it was endangered. When I checked the Internet, I found out my guest was right. Shark was endangered. I immediately took it off the menu. Soon after that, shrimp and swordfish followed the same path to destruction on the Irish Rose menu board, as did everything frozen.
See, they got it all wrong. In fact, restaurants in the Gulf are still selling seafood. They are having it tested, and so far, no ill effects. They got it wrong about Denny Clement, too. (Twenty years ago, Dennis crafted the windows in the Irish Rose. He was one of the people without whom I would never have reopened.) Something that wouldn’t even have made the paper got blown out of proportion and turned into negativity about downtown. And Dennis had nothing to do with it. I thought he responded like a champ. I leave a message on his phone. “Congratulations, you acted like the only adult in the crowd.” Like I said, people will always speculate about things. Usually when they do, they are wrong.
I dream of the day when we will all talk positively about our wonderful little downtown. I dream of the day when Craigslist is as good a place to find out about restaurants as it is to buy a motorcycle or find a hooker. I dream of the day when we will all have health insurance as good as our representatives in Washington. But I am a dreamer.
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 July 7-13, 2010 issue