Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Indiana Beach

Several summers while growing up, my mom loaded my brother and I in the car and make the fairly boring drive to Flora, Indiana to visit family, while my brother slept for four hours and I stared out the car window.
I have lots of great memories of those days: visiting my great-grandparents; staying with Grandma; walking to the gas station behind her apartment for Slush Puppies and donuts; the sheep at Aunt Mary's house; a pontoon boat ride along the lake where ducks had just left their eggs to fend for themselves.
And one of the big highlights of those summer visits was trips to Indiana Beach in Monticello.
I've gone back several times over the years.
My first road trips sans parents were at age 17 and 18 to Indiana Beach with a high school friend.
I remember paying admission to the swimming area, trudging up the stairs to the bathhouse to get a wire basket to stash our stuff in while we went to sun ourselves on the beach for the day.
Another group of friends and I visited several years after that and had a great time.
And now I am lucky to have a husband who loves road trips, loves amusement parks and loves kitsch, so we try to go every year.
Opened in 1926, Indiana Beach offers roller coasters, arcade games, a swimming beach and more, tucked among cottages and motels offering lodging right nearby.
There are wooden roller coasters on site, as well as the Steel Hawg, Indiana's tallest steel coaster.
Indiana Beach is also home to one of the last few remaining Fascination parlors, a wooden table game in the same family as Skee Ball.
For me, a trip to Indiana Beach can mean a ride on the Shafer Queen paddle wheel boat; riding the antique cars; a ride from one end of the park to the other on the chair lift; feeding the huge fish; riding the Scrambler over the lake; a stop at the creepy fortune teller guy in the arcade; a visit to the beach shop and gift shop and a round of Skee Ball.
For my husband and I, our trip now also involves a trip down the log plume ride and some of the World's Best Tacos.
Yes, when we first saw the sign touting the World's Best Tacos just ahead, we snickered. Please, the WORLD'S BEST tacos are at Indiana Beach?? I don't even recall why we tried them. But we absolutely love these tacos and rave about them every time. Sometimes, we drive three hours to the park, make a pass through the grounds, eat our tacos and head back home.
We didn't get to visit the park last year. This year, they waived admission to the grounds.
At some point since our last visit, they have made some changes, perhaps for the better, perhaps not.
I was dismayed to see as we approached the park that the former wood-sided boardwalk buildings have been covered in ordinary tan vinyl siding.
We also noticed that all of the arcade games no longer accept coins, but now use swipe cards, which are also used to pay for rides.
One thing I noticed on this visit was that there are many employees over the age of 50. I did see a few teenagers manning some rides, but overall there were many mature employees. I don't have anything against teenagers as employees at the park, but it was very refreshing to see so many mature people working, and seemingly enjoying themselves.
The food choices are still plentiful, and reasonable. There are several fair food options, and tacos will only set you back $2 each.
After enjoying our tacos on this year's visit, we continued our walk to the other end of the park.
We walked across the suspension bridge, which I had learned some history about recently.
In 1966 Tom Spackman, son of Earl Spackman, the original founder, expanded the park further over the waters of Lake Shafer with the addition of the largest suspension bridge in the Midwest.
The pedestrian bridge offers a beautiful view of the park and lake, especially on as nice of a day as it was when we visited.

Indiana Beach
5224 E. Indiana Beach Road
Monticello, IN 47960

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cerno's Bar & Grill

Sometime during the later 1990s, a friend of mine introduced me to a gorgeous bar in Kewanee, Illinoid.
Now, anytime I am out in that neck of the woods, I try to stop by, as I did in early August this year.
When I started visiting the bar it was known as Lloyd's.
My dad, who grew up in the area knew it as Ann's Place. And well before his time, it is said that the bar remained open during Prohibition.
Currently it houses Cerno's Bar & Grill.

From their website:
"Imported from Belgium, this bar was built by Pabst Blue Ribbon in 1898.
John P. Brady (prominent young business
man of Kewanee, a wholesale and retail liquor dealer who was born in that city in February, 1868, son of Thomas and Rosanna [Trainer] Brady) was the original owner; his initials are still etched in the front door glass.
The Mahogany mirrored bar spans fifty feet, with hand carved figurines at each end. It is also accented with the original brass fixtures.
Detailed carved lion heads are throughout the building.
Along the wall are small buzzers topped with tiny eagles that were used to summon a waiter to the customers. While overhead is an embossed tin ceiling. Stained-glass and leaded windows enhance the 19th century atmosphere.
The brass footed pedestal tables are still here, as is the teller cage where men would cash their paychecks, and then come in for a drink. The brass spittoons are now used as tip jars behind the bar. Years ago when women were not allowed in the taverns, the men would have to take their lady friends upstairs to drink. Their drinks were then sent up to them via the dumbwaiter, which still works today."

I never tire of looking around the bar, taking in the ancient looking wallpaper murals depicting horse and buggy, the tin ceiling, the mahogany lion's heads carved into each arch of the bar and doorways, the old tile floors, the curved brass foot rail, the cozy wooden booths...this is one place where despite changing hands several times over the years, the character has largely been left intact.

Cerno's Bar & Grill
213 W 3rd St
Kewanee, IL 61443

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lou Mitchell's

We popped by Lou Mitchell's this July when we had a bit of time to kill near Union Station waiting for a flight in Chicago.
In business for more than 85 years and located near the start of Route 66, the restaurant has history on its side.
There were about three groups ahead of us waiting for tables, so we crammed inside the door to wait. A server carrying a wicker basket of donut holes gave us each one as we waited, however, no one offered me any of the Milk Duds I saw in the basket nearby, guarded by a note that said the hostess would give them out.
The bustling restaurant has a spartan diner decor, complete with old coat racks at the tables, which I could imagine festooned with hats and trench coats in the 1920s. Round globe lights grace the ceiling.
From the looks of things, we missed the boat by not ordering breakfast, but instead went with a couple of burgers and hand cut fries, which were fine. The big standout to me was the hamburger buns. They were covered in sesame seeds. There must have been hundreds of them, and I enjoyed the buns a lot.
They squeeze their own orange juice, which I would like to try next time, along with some of their breakfast options.
We also noticed several patrons enjoying small cups of ice cream, which the restaurant gives out as well.

Lou Mitchell's
565 W Jackson Blvd
Chicago, IL 60661-5701