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Thursday, April 14, 2005 05:20 am

Hey, George!

art1995
COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY NICK STEINKAMP

He showed up in Little Rock for the dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library — and Bill Clinton was, um, no Abe Lincoln.

But will he come to Springfield to honor a real Republican?

At press time, we still don’t know whether President George W. Bush plans to show up to dedicate the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

The clues say there’s a chance: Library and museum employees have had to undergo police checks; the city has announced heightened security measures befitting a visit by the leader of the free world; local conservatives seem a bit giddier than usual.

We at Illinois Times have been hoping for a presidential visit — and so has a chunk of Springfield, judging from the reaction our life-size Cardboard George has been getting around town (see pictures).

Way we figure, it’s always good for a commander-in-chief to hang with regular folks — provided he keeps a watchful eye on a certain downtown barkeep.

To help out the White House schedulers, we came up with a dozen of our favorite places. Most of them don’t show up in the slick tourism brochures, such as that superlative guide to all things Springfieldian, the Capital City Visitor.

Of course, if the prez can’t make it, our list will still prove useful to our more adventurous visitors.

Johnny’s Restaurant
3115 Sangamon Ave.; 217-544-0838

Every burg’s got dozens of dives that serve up hash and eggs. But in Springfield, Johnny’s Restaurant at King Pin Lanes bowls over the competition. The food’s cheap and yummy, but that’s almost beside the point. What makes Johnny’s great is the added feature of being able to watch the bowlers while you butter your biscuits. And what makes Johnny’s extra-special is Judy, the quick-witted bartender who’s worked at the joint for more than 40 years. Judy says she voted for George W. because “Mrs. Bush is a classy lady.” But Judy doesn’t expect the president to saddle up at her counter any time soon. If he did, she says, “I’d probably sh*t my nickels.”

Station House
306 E. Washington St.; 217-525-0438

Why should W visit a gay bar? Or, rather, why should he visit a gay bar when he’s not campaigning for anything? Well, because it’s a Lincoln landmark — that’s why! Just check out the plaque on the corner of the building: “Site of the First Presbyterian Church in which Abraham Lincoln rented a pew 1842-1861 and where the family attended service.” If the prez stops by on Tuesday night, he’ll find Station House in full-swing karaoke mode. DJ Kenny Terrill says “Summer Nights” from Grease is the most popular choice. “Oh Lord, all those drunk people? If they don’t sing anything in the world, they try to sing that song,” he says. Asked what he’d recommend for the prez to sing, Terrill comes up with a good 1980s hit by the one-hit wonder band Boys Don’t Cry: “I Wanna Be a Cowboy.” Yeehaw!

Machino’s Tavern
300 E. Adams St.; 217-544-5172

The president’s boozing days are history, he says. Nearly 30 years have passed since W got slapped with a DUI and nearly 20 years since he oiled his tonsils for the last time. That’s a shame, because Springfield’s downtown bars are hopping. On the off chance that W falls off the wagon during his capital-city visit, he might want to skip the trendy watering holes and blow over to Machino’s, a dusty old saloon for the world-weary that offers the best country jukebox in town. He could even soak up some history with his suds. Some say Machino’s — formerly located in Thayer and then at Fourth and Adams — was the first in the state to obtain a liquor license after Prohibition. But the president had better come prepared to debate: Julius Machino, the 94-year-old owner who still stops by most mornings, is a lifelong Democrat, and bartender Mike Finley might not be too cordial. “I’d probably punch him in the nose,” Finley says, unsmiling. “He ought to keep his stinkin’ fingers out of Social Security.”

St. John’s Breadline
430 N. Fifth St.; 217-528-6098

Our leader would be hard pressed to find more kindhearted souls than the ones who volunteer at St. John’s Breadline, which serves up about 600 free meals a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A stop there would give him a chance to mingle with members of Springfield’s sizable homeless population. The experience might even cause him to rethink his decision to nix funding for several critical federal-housing programs for the poor. But Breadline volunteers would be far more apt to nurture the president than question his politics. “We’d feed him,” kitchen helper Karen Merschman says, “then we’d ask him to volunteer.”

Sun’s Up Koffee Kafe
1001 N. First St.; 217-522-5348

Sun’s Up owner Julie Kluge is easily starstruck. She thrills at the new role her cozy hippie-themed café plays in the local music scene. Kluge has hosted such songwriters extraordinaire as Jill Manning and Illinois Times’ own Tom Irwin during open-mic shows now held regularly on Thursday evenings. But Kluge has yet to see a powerful pol pass through her doors. “I can’t even get the mayor of Springfield to come in here,” she says. Maybe the president will beat out Tim Davlin for an Almond Joy mocha and a stick of incense. If so, Kluge says, he’ll be welcome, but “I’d rather have Clinton.”

PT’s B-B-Q
1451 Taylor Ave., 217-620-1013

For a taste of home, the president should motor east and roll up on PT’s B-B-Q, the erstwhile snow-cone booth parked by the belching smokers. The long, patient line that forms every single clear day testifies to Chef Perry Hines’ finesse with the flame. The most popular item, he says, is rib tips — the savory meat and gristle from the end of the bone. Slabs may be ordered dry or “wet,” doused in homemade barbecue sauce. Most of the sides — macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, greens — are also homemade, as are the peach cobbler and 7-Up cake.

Sam’s Italian Pizza
731 E. North Grand Ave.; 217-522-9111

It can be tough to find a seat in this cozy diner, especially at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, when Republican heavyweight Claudio Pecori holds court. Everybody who’s anybody, as far as the GOP goes, shows up to nosh with Pecori, who has a table that stretches down the middle of the restaurant. It’s beyond reserved; the owner creates a specialty every week for Pecori and pals (last week it was pasta fagioli, specifically ditali with pintos, broccoli, and carrots; state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka was guest of honor). Still, Pecori could certainly find seats at the table for Bush and his entourage. “I would be more than happy to do that,” he says.

Penny Lane
2901 S. MacArthur Blvd.; 217-787-2996

Penny Lane is Springfield’s one-stop shop for all things countercultural and taboo. Here, patrons can stock up on peace pipes and dugouts, biker jackets, S/M collars and sex toys, Zippos, and flasks. Springfield’s only head shop has lured several B-list stars, such as comedian Carrot Top, as they tour the country. “The last time a limo pulled up here,” store manager Harvey Utterback says, “Bridget the Porn Midget got out.” Bridget, you may have guessed, is a featured guest on the Howard Stern Show.

Boyd’s New Generation Restaurant
1831 E. South Grand Ave., 217-544-9866

If we want W to linger in Springfield (maybe you do, maybe you don’t, just play along here), we should hijack his caravan and transport him to Boyd’s. Whether it’s some secret ingredient they put in the cornbread, or just the euphoria of a feast reminiscent of Sunday dinner at Mother’s (without the side serving of catty comments like “I hope that outfit was on the clearance rack . . . ”), there’s something positively addictive about the food at Boyd’s, where choosing among the scrumptious sides presents a conundrum. So what would Bush choose? The boiled okra or the always-perfect al dente greens?  “He’s have ’em both,” says owner emeritus Albert Boyd, “because he wants to be a Southerner.”

Museum of Funeral Customs
1440 Monument Ave.; 217-544-3480

The prez might be tempted to visit Oak Ridge Cemetery to see our resident president’s current digs. But he ought to stop shy of the cemetery gates and proceed to the Museum of Funeral Customs — one of only two of its kind in the country. Inside, he can see a replica of the black coffin with silver studs and stars used for Abraham Lincoln. Museum director Jon Austin says Bush might even learn a thing or two: “If the president has not dealt thoroughly with grief,” Austin says, “visiting a museum like this could help him better understand how a loved one’s remains are prepared for burial.” At the very least, he could scarf down a candy coffin — available in milk and dark chocolate at this splendidly morbid museum’s gift shop.

Pasfield House
525 S. Pasfield St.; 217-525-3663

So what if W were to fall under Springfield’s spell and decide to stay more than a day? Aren’t all of the nice hotel suites already booked by bigwigs? Well, of course they are! But no worries — we found A-plus accommodations at Pasfield House, a B&B owned and operated by a well-known member of the Illinois GOP, Tony Leone. The fact that all five suites in the historic home are rented out to (Republican) state legislators doesn’t matter. “There’s a hierarchy in politics, and I’m sure all the current residents would gladly yield to the president and his entourage,” Leone says. If W visits, he can check out Tony’s “Plastic Abe”; Cardboard George already has (see cover).

A&W Restaurant (Air Jiffy)
3300 J. David Jones Parkway, 217-523-0084

On his way out of town, the president might catch a glimpse of the A&W root beer stand near the airport and tell his driver to pull over. Overcome by a wave of nostalgia for his childhood and simpler times in general, our commander-in-chief could dispatch one of his Secret Service guys: “Go in and get me a root beer float and some of those fried cheese curds,” W could say. “I’m gonna sit out here and watch the planes take off and land.” Fried cheese curds — wouldn’t that be the perfect way to end anybody’s visit to Springfield?

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