Sep 26, 2015

Summer bar crawling through Carbondale

If you’re one of the few faithful followers of this blog, you’ve probably noticed my postings have become more and more infrequent over the past few months.  Well, there are a few reasons for that.  The good news is I have a new job which has been keeping me quite busy and requires a lot of travel, and I’m certainly not complaining about that.  The bad news is that schedule, along with ongoing computer issues when I’m home, has kept me from staying up-to-date on my blog postings. 

Hopefully, soon, I will start making up for lost time and catching up on some of my more “blog-worthy” (at least to me) adventures past and present.  One of those adventures happened earlier this summer when The April and I visited Carbondale, Ill., where she went to college at Southern Illinois University.  The purpose of the overnight trip was to allow her to show me some of her favorite haunts while she attended school there.  It was a fun stroll … or crawl, in this case … down memory lane.

PK's is a classic dive bar and Carbondale institution.  

Like most college towns with the “party school” reputation, most of those memories revolve around the bar scene.  And there are certainly plenty to visit; however, our first stop was actually about a half hour east of Carbondale where, nestled in the hills and forest of southern Illinois, those in the know go to check out the Spillway

Officially named the Kincaid Lake Spillway, this somewhat secret swimming hole may be one of the most eye-catching spots in Southern Illinois, particularly following a wet spring when the waterfall is in is full effect. 

You have to know where to turn off of Illinois Highway 149.  Google Maps isn’t much of a help.  Fortunately, The April has good instincts.  Then, you drive down a narrow road that is completely shielded from the sun by trees on both sides of the lane.  But eventually the trees give away to an opening where you’ll find a sizable parking lot for those who want to swim, climb the falls or just take in the view.

Me, spoiling the view.
One word of caution:  don’t take the road that continues up to the Kincaid Lake dam.  The conservation cops won’t be very happy to see you.   

We considered walking up the waterfall, but the path was so deep underwater that we decided not to chance it.  Besides, we had a full night ahead of us in Carbondale.  

The April ponders how to get this party started.
Our next stop on The April’s itinerary was the Pinch Penny Pub and Garden.  The Pinch Penny has been a Carbondale landmark for more than 40 years, and as such, it seems to have everything you could ask for in a college bar – large bar areas, spacious seating, cheap drinks, a lot of specials and a full menu of affordable standard bar fare.  With the night as nice as it was, we took advantage of their spacious beer garden which filled up quickly after we arrived. 

Watching over the beer garden is this guy, who is undoubtedly also an obvious reference to the Copper Dragon, a special events-only venue adjacent to and operated by the Pinch Penny

The staff at Pinch Penny seemed very friendly if not always fully invested in waiting on us strangers in town.  And I did have to admire their sense of humor with their signage.   

All in all, this seemed like the place to be in Carbondale outside of “the strip” of downtown bars located on U.S. Highway 51.  But you can’t wait 20 years to come back to Carbondale and not go to the strip, so once nightfall hit, we moved on from the Pinch Penny to …

PK’s, a dive bar with so much character, it would thrive even if Southern Illinois University never existed.  PK’s looks like the kind of place you’d think twice about before entering, but once you do, you’ll quickly fall in love with its seedy ambiance. 

It also doesn’t’ take long to figure out PK’s is a PBR bar, and it’s been that way long before hipsters started drinking their fathers’ beer of choice.  It wouldn’t have been right if I didn’t enjoy a frosty mug of the stuff while we were there. 

In many ways, PK’s reminded me of my favorite hometown dive, the Brewhaus.  And like the Brewhaus in Springfield, PK’s has strong ties to the local music scene.  This painting, for instance, pays tribute to legendary Carbondale musician “Tawl” Paul Frederick, who has probably played countless shows there through the years.   

I could have stayed here much longer as well, but the objective of a bar crawl is to keep crawling, so we moved on to Sidetracks.

I’ll be honest; I wasn’t impressed.  The drinks were priced appropriately for the college crowd.  The outdoor seating was nice.  But the vibe was just … meh. Maybe I’m getting too old for this kind of place.  Or maybe I would have enjoyed the scene more during a busier weekend during the school year.  But for some reason, The April and I just weren’t feeling it here. 

Once again, we moved on, this time to Hangar 9, which The April recalled as her favorite place to see live music when she attended school in Carbondale. 

I hope they notice me when I get up there.
While the building has changed quite a bit for the better over the years (according to The April's recollection), it’s apparently still just as popular now as it was then, which must explain the cavernous floor space and long bar set-up.   

And even on a summer weekend, Hangar 9 had a band booked on the night we visited – Little Pizza.  I would have been happier with Little Village, but you take what you can get.  To be honest, we had little interest in staying for the music, but the warm-up sounded good. 

Shiner Bock in a can ... in southern Illinois ... who knew!?
Frankly, The April and I were perfectly content to sample something from their extensive beer selection and enjoy the beer garden overlooking the sidewalk and the street.  It was a good spot for watching the world go by … at least until this homeless vegan hippie hobo Irish gypsy type tried to befriend us.  Fortunately, we were able finish our drinks then slip out when he went to use the bathroom.   We took his intrusion as a sign that it was probably time to wrap up this bar crawl for the night.

Even though it was a down time for Carbondale, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed accompanying The April back to some of her college hangouts.  Whether they like it or not, Southern Illinois University still has its party school reputation, and the bar scene on any given night will support it.     

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