Friday, July 16, 2010

The Red Barn

The Red Barn is located at 621 W. Glen Ave. in North Peoria near Sheridan Rd. The Red Barn, like the Hole in the Wall in Pekin is an extremely aptly named tavern. Whether or not this building ever served as a barn is beyond me but if I had to guess, I'd say no. In lieu of providing livestock, this barn provides live music. Fuck I'm clever! As a matter of fact there really is only two things to do at the Red Barn; drink and play or listen to music.

There is a small group of regulars that show up around 5 to watch the news and shoot the shit, but really this place is all about the music. There are only two (2) tv's and no games.That's right, no pool, no shuffleboard, no crackbox, Golden Tee, or Silver Strike. The Barn might be the only place in Peoria that doesn't have at least one of these entertainment options available. That's fine with me because the Red Barn is always booking bands (many from the Peoria area) to play. Tuesdays and Fridays are open mic nights with drums and a PA.

This is really why the Red Barn is so important to Peoria. It is one of many taverns like Pizza Works and the Whammy Bar that do their absolute best to support local and non-local original music. Sure, lots of bars book cover bands and lots of people pack Crusens and the like every weekend to see them. But for a bar owner to take a chance on a local, unsigned act to play in his/her bar takes a certain amount of courage. In short, this means that the owner is more commited to supporting upcoming musicians than packing their bar in order to make money. This kind of thing just doesn't happen that often anymore. If you can't appreciate that, than have fun at some other bar where the owner is more busy finding out ways to make money than trying to keep their patrons happy. I realize that not everyone is willing to take a chance on a band that they've never heard of but sometimes, it is necessary to step outside your comfort zone. You never know, you might stumble upon a gem like Tina Sparkle, the Yorktown Prophet, or Derrick Hart.

When you walk into the barn you'll see a small and extremely worn bar that, if you look closely used to be red. Years of elbows and beer spills have made the paint all but non-existent. The bar seats only about ten but there are several booths on the wall to sit at. As you walk towards the back, the bathrooms are on the left. Both the women's and the men's are covered with graffiti from folks all over the country who have either played with or watched a band at the Barn. The only maxim that comes to mind is; "Remember it is usually better to pissed off than pissed on!" Usually!? I would think it is always better to pissed off than pissed on but apparently this individual does not subscribe to that idea. You could spend an hour in each bathroom and still not finish reading all signatures, quotes, and words of wisdom inscribed in every corner.

Past the bathroom is the stage. It is only a few inches high but the tall ceiling makes it seem bigger. This is the part of the building that most resembles a barn. There are exposed rafters and a tall ceiling and the walls are bare wood. Other than the stage lights shining on the performers, the only illumination in the back room are small red candles that dot each table. I can attest that when you are on stage these candles stick out more than faces surrounding them. The contrast in atmosphere from the front bar area to the stage in back is staggering. It's like walking from a hole-in-the-wall in Peoria straight into a beatnik-era club in Greenwich Village. It is definitely one of my (and many others) favorite places to play. There is even an old church pew to relax on while enjoying music. A friend of the PBR made the observation that it is "surely not a Catholic pew, because it's much to comfortable." He's got a good point.

Originally, I intended to talk to the owner, Buffalo Dan Solomon and get some history on the Barn. I still plan on doing this but a recent article from Phil Luciano kind of changed the direction of this review. I won't go through all the details, you can read them here. Basically, the owner of the Back Store owns everything surrounding the Red Barn, including a shared parking lot. After years of paying rent on the lot and paying for its upkeep every year, this gentleman decided he wasn't making enough money in rent. Buffalo Dan said he would not pay the jacked up price, so the owner of the Back Store, Ken Humphrey, put up barricades to block the Barn's patrons from parking. Illegal? No. Dick move? Yes.

He has also purchased the old gas station on the corner of Sheridan and Glen and plans on turning it into a restaurant. I'm not sure how well that will work and I hope he does well. I am in support of any and all local businesses succeeding no matter how much of an ass the owner is. What doesn't make sense is why he would piss off many of the people who go to the Red Barn and could possibly be patrons at his new restaurant. After all, this is a neighborhood tavern and the Barn was there first, so I think it would be safe to say that the neighborhood's loyalties would lie with their bar. The reason I say that this is a dick move is because Solomon was originally paying $250 a month for shared use of the lot. In reality, this is an incredibly cheap price. Humphrey told Solomon he wanted $600 and Dan said no. Humphrey than countered with an offer of $500. Dan again said no and that was the end of the discussion. Could these two businessmen not split the difference? I have a feeling Buffalo Dan would be willing to do so. Whether or not Humphrey would is something I doubt. Rant over.

So, if you've never been to the Barn or you've been there a hundred times, go in and show your support, if you're so inclined. I would have no problem parking across the street if necessary in order to show my support for Buffalo Dan and the Red Barn.

Cheers to the Red Barn and cheers to local music!                                                      Red Barn on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Shifter's Pub, formerly Whammy Bar

Update 7/8/12 - Went down to Shifter's Pub (as in a gear shifter, for some reason) last night and it was pretty packed. They opened a few months back and seem to be doing fairly well. The area in front of the stage was raised a bit, and new fake-wood flooring makes up a small dancing area. It's doubtful that any music there won't be coming from a DJ's laptop (does no one use vinyl anymore? I thought that's what made DJ's so cool). This sucks for lovers of live, original music, but it may be the best business model, for the stiletto-wearing YOLO chicks and cologne-soaked bros who populate the 500 block in the wee hours. We'll see.

Update - Unfortunately, the Whammy Bar has closed and continued the failure of bars in this particular location. This sucks because, the Whammy Bar was such a great place to hear local and non-local musical acts. According to the Journal Star, another tenant has already been lined up. No word on whether or not the new owner will incorporate live music into the new bar's format. See the original review below.

R.I.P Whammy Bar
Whammy Bar is located at 500 Main St. in downtown Peoria. This location has been many things over the years: Euro Jack's, The 5th Amendment, Babe's, and most notably the original S.O.P.'s. Back when it was Sully's Other Planet, this place really hopped with live music. The new version of S.O.P.'s (now closed, soon to be an extended section of Deisel) has done a decent job in living up to that legacy but it fails in providing as intimate of an environment as there is at the Whammy Bar. I had never actually been to any of the former incarnations of 500 Main St. but fellow PBR staffer Bobby Bolts informed me that the layout of the bar is basically the same. That is not to say that the owners of the Whammy Bar didn't do an admirable job in outfitting it with some great rock and blues memorabilia. Also, back by the men's bathroom there is an old payphone booth that now holds a Chief. I'll get the pic up as soon as I find my fucking memory card.

In case you didn't know a whammy bar (also known as a tremolo bar) is, it is a device attached the bridge of a guitar that allows the musician to manipulate pitch and tone. It was first made famous by Chet Atkins and the great surf music of Dick Dale and the Ventures. It's popularity spread to rock and was utilized heavily by Hendrix and Zepellin among many others. Later, the whammy bar was instrumental in popularizing the "shred metal" bands of the 80's and especially Van Halen.

Gone is the small bar just inside the main entrance on Main and Madison. There is a new Valley pool table just to the right inside. Hanging high above the table are several encased and autographed guitars. I can't remember who has autographed the axes but I do know (ok, I think) Sheryl Crow is one of them. There are high topped tables to the right of the granite, square bar. There is a small patio off Madison Ave. that is made up of a nice collection of antique Purington Pavers. At one time, many of the streets in downtown Peoria were made up completely of these bricks. The only problem is that you can't take your drinks outside after midnight. It's the same way at Hoops, I think it is some kind of city ordinance. What sucks about this, is that this rule makes sense for Club Ice, Gin Joint, and Judge's Chamber, none of which have any kind of patio furniture to set your drinks on. The Whammy Bar provides its patrons with nice high topped tables and chairs for your smoking and people-watching pleasure.

Side note: last week when I was down at the Whammy, I was sitting outside enjoying a pleasant conversation with a very drunken individual when four assholes on crotch rockets ripped their throttles open. It was so fucking loud I couldn't hear a thing my friend was saying. Note to motorcycle riders making a shitload of noise on Main Street: YOU ARE NOT COOL! Actually, you are quite lame. As a matter of fact, all you're doing is pissing people off. I understand if you want to rip it open on some back country road or the interstate but Main Street just isn't the place. Not to mention the fact that the noise bounces back and forth between the buildings that make up the canyon of Main Street, making it louder and last longer than normal -- like some kind exhaust noise Viagra. So, if you are one of those motorcycle riders reading this, let me just say that you are a douchebag and I hope you get pulled over and get a ticket for that shit. Rant over.

Back to the Whammy. One of the great things about this place is their stage. They've got lights, PA, sound board, the whole deal. They even give amateurs a chance to get up there on Wednesdays when local musician and friend of the PBR Derrick Hart, hosts an open mic night. The Whammy Bar also has plenty of bands booked on the weekends, go to their website, and check out their calendar of events. 

The Whammy Bar also has food, a lot of it. Their menu is extensive, running the gamut from burgers, to burritos, salads and a whole lot more. I'm not sure if they serve till 4 in the morning but I would guess they serve till at least 2.

So cheers to the Whammy Bar for providing an amazing venue for local musicians to play, and for giving Main Street a classy oasis for booze consumption.

No cheers to motorcycle riders who think they're being filmed for the Fast and Furious 4, you guys are assholes.

Things Unique to Peoria: Richard Pryor

I wasn't sure if I was going to do another one of these posts but this one just popped into my head this morning and I feel like a dumbass for not having thought of it before. Richard Pryor is without a doubt the most famous person to come from Peoria. The City of Peoria renamed a section of Sheridan Rd. near the River West Townhouses after him.

No, its Richard Motherfuckin Lennox Pryor III. Get your shit together Peoria!
If it were up to me, Main St. would be known as Richard Franklin Lennox Motherfuckin Pryor III Avenue. Pryor is considered by many to be the most influential comic of the 20th century. Jerry Seinfeld has called him "The Picasso of our profession." He is listed as number one on Comedy Central's list of all-time greatest stand up comedians.

Richard grew up on the South Side of Peoria in his grandmother's brothel (somewhere on Washington St.)where his mother was a prostitute before she abandoned him. I would love to know what building this brothel was located in but chances are it no longer exists. He was pretty much raised by his grandmother. Pryor to moving to NYC (yah I misspelled that, get used to it, it will now be a permanent fixture here at the PBR) Richard had a short stint in the army and worked in a mafia owned night club. According to him, he was the MC and once tried to stick up the owners because they refused to pay a stripper the money they owed her. There was just one flaw in his plan, he used a cap pistol for his robbery. The owners thought it was a joke and Richard turned it into one of the greatest bits ever in his stand-up special "Live At the Sunset Strip." Seriously, click this link and go watch the clip. If you've never seen Pryor before or you've seen him a million times this bit never gets old. Rich didn't just have great jokes, he was a master story teller, impressionist, and social commentator. This bit shows off all these skills in one 8 minute segment. Pure brilliance. Ok, I've just gotten distracted watching this clip, I forgot how many great lines are in it, just give me a sec.


Ok, I'm back. Before his mainstream success, Rich made a name for himself doing material that was nowhere near as controversial as the stuff he would eventually become famous for. It was necesary though, as it helped him overcome his extreme stage fright. Consider this quote from Nina Simone on Richard's first few perfomances
                   "He shook like he had malaria, he was so nervous. I couldn't bear to watch him shiver, so I put my arms around him there in the dark and rocked him like a baby until he calmed down. The next night was the same, and the next, and I rocked him each time."

Pretty intense stuff for a guy that ten years later would have such an incredible stage presence he invoked standing ovations at his concerts. Towards the end of the sixties Pryor had what he later called an "epiphany". He was working a show in Las Vegas and when he walked out on stage simply said "What the fuck am I doing here?" then walked off stage. This was the beginning of Rich's evolution into the brand of stand up comedy that would make him famous and inspire a generation of comics. During the seventies Rich wrote for several tv shows, released a shitload of albums and began starring in movies, many with Gene Wilder. Go to Rich's Wikipedia page and brush up, on your Pryor knowledge, I guarantee there will be things you have forgotten about.

I would be remiss if I didn't include the Freebasing Incident. Rich had such a good sense of humor about something that most people would never want to talk about. One of my favorite lines from "Live At the Sunset Strip" is when he is explaining the incident and he says; " thing I find out is that when you are running down the street on fire, people will get out of your way". First, you have to go here and watch this clip from the special. Secondly, since I'm lazy, I'm going to copy and paste Wikipedia's description of the event.

On June 9, 1980, during the making of the film Bustin' Loose, Pryor set himself on fire after freebasing cocaine while drinking 151-proof rum. He ran down Parthenia St. from his Northridge, California, home until subdued by police. He was taken to the hospital, where he was treated for burns covering more than half of his body. Pryor spent six weeks in recovery at the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital. His daughter, Rain Pryor, stated that Pryor poured high-proof rum over his body and set himself on fire in a bout of drug-induced psychosis.[27]

Pryor incorporated a description of the incident into his "final" comedy show Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip in 1982. He joked that the event was caused by dunking a cookie into a glass of low-fat and pasteurized milk, causing an explosion. At the end of the bit, he poked fun at people who told jokes about it by waving a lit match and saying, "What's this? It's Richard Pryor running down the street."

I fucking love that joke. Eventually, Rich would go on to sign a contract for 40 million bucks with Columbia Pictures, and starred in Superman III. The only movie from this period that was not related to his contract with Columbia was the semi-autobiographical "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling", parts of which were filmed right here in Peoria. Rich even co-wrote "Blazing Saddles" with Mel Brooks. After suffering a heart attack in 1977, Rich was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

In his lifetime Richard Pryor went from being a poor, abused kid from Peoria to one of the biggest movie stars of the 80's and arguably (not sure who you would pick other than Rich but you always have to say arguably) the greatest stand up comedian of all time. To me, Rich will always hold this distinction. Oh, and he starred in over 50 films, had 6 children, was married 7 times to 5 different women, made a shitload of money, donated a shitload of money to charity, influenced a generation of comics, and changed the way we deal with issues of race and social class. Not bad for a skinny, foul-mouthed, drug-addled kid from Peoria.

Richard Pryor died on December 10, 2005. In the last years of his life, Rich was humbled by the disease that had plagued him all his life, MS. I guarantee you though, that while he may have looked physically weak, his mind was as strong as ever. Unfortunately, Rich didn't get his wish when it came to the manner of his death;
"I'd like to die like my father died... My father died fucking. My father was 57 when he died. The woman was 18. My father came and went at the same time."

R.I.P. Rich

T.U.T.P Scale
Thingness - 0/10
Uniqueness - 10/10
Peorianess  - 10/10

Friday, July 2, 2010

Peoria Institution: Jan's Tap, the Best Cubs Bar in Peoria

Update May 20, 2012
I randomly found myself in the South End Wednesday night, and with the Cubs game on the radio and a few dollars in my pocket, I figured it would be best to stop in at Jan's.

First off, you should know that Jan's husband has been diagnosed with lung cancer. So, keep him in your prayers (if you do that sort of thing) or your thoughts (I think we all have those).

Wednesday provided a beautiful night for some late night scratch-offs and yet another devastating Cubs loss. When I walked in, there were only three people at the bar. One, I soon learned, was named Leland, who admitted he gambles "a lot."

"Not a winner, Leland," the bartender said.

"Damn. I've lost 60 dollars tonight."

Following that, Leland rambled on semi-incoherently about "notebooks" from "'47, '48 and '49" that he sold for $100 a pop. He told us they were actually worth $250 a piece. I'm still not sure what he was talking about but I think it was some kind of annual program for the Cubs. It didn't matter; ears were caught, and the bartender deftly slipped away.

I informed the bartender I won $4 on my $2 scratch-off.

"You sure?" she asked.

"The machine will tell you what it's made of," Leland chimed in.

Indeed, Jan's has a new machine that scans each scratch-off, ensuring that Leland-types can't pull any fast ones on whoever is behind the bar.

It's fitting that the most notorious Cubs bar in town also sells a ton of lottery tickets. The dream of winning is still alive and well at Jan's. And much like Cubs fans, these folks are in it for the love of the game.

Click below to read the original review.