Friday, February 15, 2008

Remembering The Deluxe, Champaign, Illinois

Tonight I had dinner at a bar in Providence, RI, and after ordering a beer battered fish sandwich, I was moved to put ketchup on it. Not malt vinegar or tartar sauce, both of which were delivered with the meal, but ketchup. This choice of condiment may not have any particular meaning to you, but for me it was a nod to my high school years in Urbana, IL.

On Green Street, in the heart of the University of Illinois campus town and just across the dividing line between the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign, was The Deluxe, a slightly seedy bar and billiard hall famous for its fish sandwiches, served on a hamburger bun with onions. The tradition—which no one ever questioned—was that a Deluxe fish sandwich was always garnished with ketchup. This was cheap eats at its best, a meal that always went well with a bottle of Bud.

Now long gone, the Deluxe was frequented by working stiffs, college students, and faculty, many of whom still remember it fondly.


SV said...
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SV said...

I have received word from two relatives that (a) they remember the fish sandwich being offered on two slices of white bread rather than a hamburger bun [could be] and (b) Pabst Blue Ribbon was the beer of choice at The Deluxe [ditto].

foundrysmith said...

Nothing fancy - it was just square, plain white bread. I also remember going in once with my girlfriend, who had the temerity to ask that her PBR be served in a glass! The barmaid made some non-complimentary remarks that I can't repeat here - though they were quite in keeping with the feel of the place!

Stuart Vyse said...

The following memories of The Deluxe were contributed by my friend and Urbana High School classmate, Mark Wetzel:

fish only on fridays and saturdays, with the smoky cloud hanging around in the place until at least the following wednesday, and perhaps a clean(er) air break for just thursday, before the cycle began again.

Jean, a jovial and most friendly person, worked behind the bar for years (giving me pickle and onion buckets for my research....whenever I asked, and always given to me with a smile); Steve, the owner, always smiling, chatty, and scurrying from customer to customer to share a few words; then, there was this crotchety old codger always with a 3 day growth of thin, grayish hair stubble on his face, shuffling around to clean up here and there, bringing forth the buckets, dragging out the trash...and near-constantly mumbling curses at nothing or nobody in particular...just cursing the drudgery of the moment.

a pool hall that always had the front pool tables (classic, solid, 8 and 9 foot behemoths, probably each with 1.5 inch slate tops, old leather pockets) covered with a sheet of plywood and cheap plastic coverings....for the fish eating crowd.

Then it was sold, gutted, rebuilt as a sports bar called Legends (but I have not ventured there since it opened a few years ago.......would be blasphemy for all Deluxe regulars).

Chad Lawrence Willenborg said...

I built Deluxe sandwiches on Fridays and Saturdays from 91-93--my first day was a home football opener, and it was like six hours of murder by oil burn. I lived, and they gave me more shifts.

I don't remember many people putting ketchup on the fish sandwich, but I know we never served tartar sauce, which I think Legends does now. If someone asked for it, we usually "explained" where Wendy's was.

To refresh all your all's memories, the fish (slab of battered fresh-frozen north atlantic cod) was served on white, 'wheat, rye, or bun. We said whitewheatryeorbun?automatic like some places ask if you want fries. They were monsters that destroyed white bread, especially wrapped to-go. Pickle chips and big disks of onions were standard--we sliced so many onions we'd have to wash our hands with whiskey. Occasional sacrilege of cheese slice or bacon, don't ask me why. When the freezer ran out of onion rings, we'd use the fish batter to make them from scratch.

No taps at Deluxe. Always bottles, a brutal hauling of trash to the dumpster. Occassionally cans on special, which is probably why some remember the Pabst tallboys.

Olympic size pool tables by the hour. Pinball machines with Tilt turned off. Jukebox turned to eleven. Summertime bands in the back, along the Boneyard. Ah, dangerous times... I miss them.

SV said...

Chad, Thank you so much. What a great and authoritative addition. You really fortify the memories.

NewsFollowUp said...

I used to be a room mate of a cook at Deluxe. He would make egg salad sandwiches for me if i came in...also played a bunch of pool there.

Vic said...

My bf in the late 70s took me on a tour of his college town of Champaign in the late 70s (he graduated in 1974). The Deluxe was a first stop for that fish sandwich. What a beautiful piece of nostalgia. So glad he shared it with me, and that you shared it with others, too.