Jun 12, 2014

Taking stock of Lock, Stock and Barrel, Decatur, Ill.

Before I delve further into my most recent trip to New Orleans, I figured I’d take care of some other business closer to home – in this case, Decatur, Ill. 

To put Decatur in perspective with my hometown of Springfield for those who are unfamiliar with the area, think of Decatur like Springfield’s little brother. You know the one.  He lives in your shadow and has an identity crisis because of it.  He tries to do everything you do, only better.  He always looks like he’s been playing in the dirt, and he sometimes smells bad.  And even though you don’t want to admit it, he’s still pretty cool to hang out with. 

Anyway, that’s always been my impression.  Maybe it will keep improving over time because one of the first things my girlfriend suggested when she learned I was a blogger … and a foodie … and a barfly … was to show me around Decatur, her hometown , and introduce me to some of her favorite and familiar places.  And one of her first recommendations, among several surrounding Millikin University and the Oakland Street strip, was the Lock, Stock and Barrel. 

The Lock, Stock and Barrel (or LSB, as those in the know call it for expediency) is about as much of a Decatur institution as you’ll find around the university.  It has been a go-to restaurant, bar and music scene since 1978.  It’s locally owned, and it has, according to her, one of the few beer gardens in town worth frequenting.  We went on one of the first warm spring Friday evenings of the year and were eager for some al fresco eating and drinking.   

The sun sets on the Lock, Stock and Barrel
The entrance looks relatively unassuming, but once you step inside you maneuver though a large entrance area and up a small flight of wooden steps, giving you a sense of a western theme that may have once existed.  The building’s interior probably appears larger than it actually is, thank to the magic of mirrors along one wall.  But the atmosphere is laid back, informal and inviting (if a little dark).  It’s a little bit sports bar, a little bit dive bar, a little bit restaurant, and a little bit music venue all rolled up into one place.

Plenty of room at the bar

I'm always a sucker for bench railings.
But the thing that probably strikes you most (or maybe it’s just me and my affinity for such things) is the impressive bar area, which is almost hexagonal in shape.  We squatted there for our first draft and some small talk from a friendly bartender.  He informed us the LSB had just added two Schlafly beers to their draft selection, so we tried them both.  It was a good start to our happy hour.

No, we did not just have a liquid dinner. 
We opted to move out to the beer garden for our second round and to eat.  The beer garden itself it long and narrow, with a fence offering a view of the street action.  Yes, not only does it resemble an alley; it really is an alley.  But hey, they’re making the best use out of it.    

"Nest is ready.  Now if only we can get some leaves."
Even the birds have acclimated to the surroundings. 

And this “car seat” along the fence line may be the best seat in the house.  Or, at least the alley. 

It was also at some point before dinner arrived that I realized the girlfriend was still unaccustomed to the blogger side of me – whatever it is that makes me take pictures of the mundane and minutia for future posts. Clearly, she was a little puzzled but indulged me anyway (and in case you were wondering, she does prefer to preserve her anonymity for blogging purposes).     

The girlfriend and her suspicious look.  
The food was quite good for your standard pub grub.  I had the black forest sandwich, mainly because it isn't often I get to order anything that comes on pumpernickel bread.  It was simple, yet tasty – hot roast beef, Colby cheese, tomato and bacon.  The sandwich’s size at first seemed small given my typical appetite, but in reality it was just right. 

My girlfriend, apparently even more I the mood for pub food, went for the Entire Barrel appetizer, which is a sampler of toasted ravioli, mini corn dogs (it is the Midwest, duh!), onion rings, fried mushrooms and fried cheese curds.  It was kind of like someone decided to put a microcosm of state fair food on one platter.  By the way, she let me pick at it, and everything was quite delicious.  Did I mention she’s a really awesome girlfriend?

Lock, Stock and Barrel also won't break your bank.  My sandwich and chips only set me back $6.75.  Her appetizer sampler was just $7.25.  they also have specialty nights with killer deals, like their all-you-can-eat taco bar on Wednesdays.  I thought the service -- at least in the beer garden -- was a little slow, but it may have been due to only having one waitress on duty for the entire beer garden.  It's still a minor quibble when you consider the good food, drink and atmosphere at the Lock, Stock and Barrel.   

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