Apr 24, 2012

Pub crawl by bus to Fast Eddie's

It started as a relatively innocuous Saturday a couple of weeks back, with no plans to do anything out of the ordinary except get caught up on some rest.  But I don’t do nothing for very long, and I don’t do it well.  At least that’s the opinion of my Gypsy roommate, who I was apparently driving crazy and preventing her from concentrating on making jewelry in her Gypsy workshop.  So, she shipped me off for the evening.  And fortunately, I knew of the perfect time-killer – a pub crawl by bus with the final stop being Fast Eddie’s Bon Air in Alton, Ill.

I had already turned down the opportunity to join several of my friends on this trip, but fortunately they were able to get me on last-minute for a $30 fee.  Consider this:  You’re on a nice comfy motorcoach round-trip, you can BYOB (and everyone did in generous portions), you’re making three bar stops along the way (and a casino if you desire), and you’re entertained for nearly 12 hours (especially if you’re the self-entertaining type).  Yes, definitely worth hoping on the bus and enjoying the ride.  

Here’s the inside of the bus as we pulled out of Springfield.  It didn’t stay that subdued for long.  One of the organizers of the trip (standing) was passing out shots before the left the city limits. 

Don't look behind you, but business is about to pick up!

My friend Big Don brought shots of his own – the tropical, fruity test tube variety. 

Our first bus stop was in Farmersville, Ill., a small farming/bedroom community off I-55 about 20 minutes south of Springfield.  I love small town dive bars.  Everyone has its own set of characters and vibe, and McGuire’s did not disappoint.  Surprisingly, they handled the onslaught from a busload of people quite well.  Clearly, it wasn’t their first rodeo with a group of bus drunks. 

I had my usual small town bar choices – a Miller High Life and a Stag.   

Among the highlights at McGuire’s – 1) free chili for the customers; 2) a large room behind the bar for large crowds, with a shuffleboard table; 3) self-service from the refrigerator at the side of the bar … grab your beer and pay at the register; and 4) as my friend Aissa will attest to, generous pours of wine in a chilled beer mug.

Next stop:  Weezy’s in Hamel, Ill.  Hamel is where we got off the interstate for the 20-minute ride into Alton, which is part of the Saint Louis metro area.  (If you’re not familiar with where Alton is located, think due north of Saint Louis, on the other side of the Mississippi River).  

Weezy’s still has that 1930s roadhouse feel and makes the most of its Route 66 heritage.  As our group invaded the bar, the first thing I noticed was a few regulars sitting at the bar.  They looked like they had been there for, oh about three days, but they were very welcoming. 

The bar looked to be well-stocked, and the bartender was very attentive considering the crowd that amassed around her.  She even pulled out this giant jug of party mix to keep refilling the bowls on the bar.  It helped wash down the drinks and supply our thirst for more.  Plus, all of the staff at Weezy’s were very easy on the eyes, a definite plus as far as I’m concerned.    

I was also impressed by the fact that, for a small bar, they had Magic Hat No. 9 on tap – for $3!  I did not pass up this deal.  I also had a Captain and Coke there, well, just because.  All in all, Weezy’s gets a thumbs up from me.

Third stop:  Roper’sRegal Beagle in Godfrey, Ill.  Godfrey is right next to Alton, and if the name sounds familiar think of the TV show Three’s Company.  There was no Jack, Janet or Chrissie, or even Larry the car salesman to be seen, however, and in fact I did not see any acknowledgement of the “coincidence” the entire time I was at the bar. 

Having never been here before (but always wanting to make a pit stop every time I’d gone to Fast Eddie’s in the past), I was surprised and impressed by the size and scope of the Regal Beagle.  There was a huge seating area for the restaurant, a sizable main bar area with a view of the spacious kitchen and a huge sports bar/patio area that was probably considered outside by the legal definition of the state’s smoking laws.
Our group stayed for about an hour, long enough for me to try the fish tacos on special and, to be perfectly honest, they far exceeded my expectations.  I wanted to eat before going to Fast Eddie’s because I knew the wait for food there would seem interminably long if I went there hungry.  You’ll know I speak the truth if you’ve ever been there.  It’s not the service (far from it), it’s the huge demand.

Finally, as darkness settled in, we made our way to FastEddie’s Bon Air.  It may not be world famous, but I think it’s safe to say it’s regionally famous at least.  Legend has it a bar called the Bon Air has been on this site since Anheuser-Busch opened one in 1921.  Some claims it’s the No. 1 bar in the United States by volume today.  And to think the size of the bar has doubled since I first went there 20 years ago. 

Here’s what you see when you walk in, at least later in the evening.  If you walk in before 9 p.m. you’re liable to see a line of people surrounding the bar as they wait to put their orders in at the grill. 

Fast Eddie’s is just as famous for the good, cheap grub as they are for their crowds and beer sales.  And they’re proud of the fact that prices have not changed for 19 years.  A burger is 99 cents.  A basket of fries is still 99 cents.  Huge peel-and-eat shrimp are 29 cents each.  A steak kabob (the Big Elwood on a Stick) is just $2.99. 

After a couple hours of drinking and dancing to the 70s and 80s cover band in the beer garden, I had worked up an appetite for 10 shrimp and a Big Elwood to keep me nourished.  Both were excellent as always.   

I will do Fast Eddie’s justice with its own blog the next time I visit (I owe a certain mysterious and exotic Gypsy a trip there). But suffice to say, after nearly closing the place, the bus ride back to Springfield was significantly quieter than the trip there.  And yes, I did use the drive back to sober up … believe it or not, I can be a responsible commoner … when I want to be. 

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