Trivoli Gets Its Nightlife Back

The Brown Jug rises again
By Phil Luciano
Photos by Ron Johnson
Inside the Brown Jug

 

Men in a bar toasting beer bottles
Bob Bullock and Mark Donahue

Come nightfall, Trivoli won’t be rolling up the sidewalks.

For one, there are no sidewalks. For another, the neon lights are back on at The Brown Jug.

For more than a half-century, the roadhouse has served as a community connecting point in Trivoli, home to just a few businesses, none with evening hours. After 20 years of ownership of the bar and grill, Monica Childers wanted to retire. She found an enthusiastic trio who not only wanted to buy the place but to spruce things up.

“The townspeople rely on it,” Childers said. “It’s a place they can go and gather.”

One of the new owners, Bob Bullock, knows what the saloon means to Trivoli. “We want to fix it up a bit and give it back to the community,” he said.

The same philosophy worked well at another venerable pub, Mike’s Tavern, reopened by Bullock and Mark Donahue two years ago in West Peoria. The pair – along with Donahue’s nephew, Connor Nauth — recently purchased the Brown Jug with a similar restoration plan: Add a little shine and sparkle, but don’t mess with what people have liked for many years.

“We like the small, local footprint,” Bullock said.

Budweiser Bar Sign Trivoli rests along Illinois Route 116 about 13 miles west of Peoria’s city limits. The community was laid out around 1840, but never incorporated. Trivoli is categorized by the U.S. Census Bureau as a “census-designated place,” with 385 residents.

Just past the turn of the 20th century, Trivoli boasted more than a dozen businesses, including three blacksmiths, two doctors and a newspaper, according to “The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Peoria County,” published in 1902.

“It does a considerable local trade,” the publication raved.

These days, Trivoli has a handful of business, including a bank (Trivoli Community Bank), farm-implement dealer (Fliginger Equipment) and post office. A café, Stewart’s Family Restaurant, sits on its western edge. The nightlife district begins and ends with The Brown Jug, 18403 W. Farmington Road.

The building went up in 1941, originally housing a slaughterhouse. Later, the site hosted apartments, an ice cream parlor and a grocery store.

In 1968, along came The Brown Jug, which quickly became a popular spot to get drinks and grub. In time, it gained renown for breakfast, especially The Belly Buster, a four-plate monstrosity piled with pancakes, biscuits and gravy, eggs, toast and home fries – a daunting mountain range of food that defeated many eager eaters.

But for many regulars, the main draw was comradeship. In addition to the menu, the Jug offered generous side orders of the latest gossip, making it the place to go to get the scoop on Trivoli happenings.

“It felt comfortable, like it’s home,” said Childers, who went from barkeep to owner. “I’ve met a lot of good people there.”

That’s why she was always willing to lend a hand to the community. For example, during blizzards, locals might not be able to get out of town for groceries. With no market in town, they’d call Childers.

Despite her fondness for the saloon, she decided this year – her 65th – to take a bow. The sale was completed on March 23.

Shortly afterward, building rehab began, with the Jug turning dark for the first time. Long-time customers wondered when the doors would open again.

“We had people stopping in all the time to see what was going on,” Bullock said.

The work crew left intact most of the interior, where the ceiling and walls are swathed in wood paneling. In addition to fresh paint, updates include new lamps, barstools and TVs. A sparse outdoor patio is destined for rejuvenation and possible expansion.

Inside bar with "The Brown Jug" in the foregounrd

The new venture has meant a few new hires between The Brown Jug and Mike’s Tavern, with the two juggling staffers. The Jug’s kitchen will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, plus breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays.

Peoria County Administrator Scott Sorrel, whose office coordinates economic development for the county, raved about the tavern’s revival.

“Anytime we see investment in revitalizing and reopening a local business, it’s a good thing for the community and neighborhood,” he said. “In this case, it’s Trivoli, where The Brown Jug has such a history.

“Small business is critical to our overall economy, but especially in these unincorporated centers like Trivoli. To see investment in a property stabilizes the tax base in the immediate surrounding area and keeps an (otherwise) empty building in use.”

A steady stream of vehicles zips past the pub in both directions. Nauth, the youngest co-owner, thinks a rejuvenated Jug can draw not just from the immediate community but from passersby looking for a burger or beer.

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” he said with a grin, “getting some of those cars to stop in here.”

 

Phil Luciano  

Phil Luciano is a senior writer/ columnist for Peoria Magazine
and content contributor to public television station WTVP

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