Stepping into The Village Tavern, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is a bit like traveling back in time. The bar's strong emphasis on tradition has earned it a loyal following of customers who appreciate that the menu and many of the employees haven't changed for decades.
Motif: The Village Tavern is the latest drinking establishment to occupy a space that has been in use since 1849, serving through the Great Depression and Prohibition. The decor also spans the decades, including a 35-foot mahogany bar that survived the fire at Chicago's McCormick Place in 1967 and a clock from the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition.
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The Village Tavern135 Old McHenry Road, Long Grove, (847) 634-3117, villagetavernoflonggrove.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; closed Tuesday
The walls of the small interior dining area that was once the entire bar are lined with photos and news clippings from throughout the '70s. Display cases show off jewelry made by a server and consignment china on sale. The bar area features dangling bronze chandeliers and TVs tuned to sports while the dining room has brick walls decorated with black-and-white photos, stained glass lamps hanging overhead plus a fireplace.
Crowd: Many customers come to The Village Tavern five or six times a week, greeting the owners with hugs as if visiting family. Monday and Wednesday's all-you-can-eat broasted chicken draws in diners from throughout the area. Monday is also customer appreciation day, when the bar awards guests with samples, new desserts or drinks and merchandise.
Families like to come in from 6 to 8 p.m. Fridays, when balloon artists Ryan or Anna Freeman go table to table creating truly amazing works like a fire-breathing dragon big enough for a boy to stand in and a hula skirt-wearing monkey hanging from an enormous palm tree that can be worn as a hat. Autumn is the spot's busiest season, when people stop in after coming from out of town for Long Grove's festivals or to see the fall colors.
Service: A true family affair, The Village Tavern is owned by husband and wife Chip and Mary Ullrich, and their son serves as general manager. Much of the kitchen and wait staff have been working at the bar for 20 to 40 years. On the night we visited, the staff proved to be incredibly friendly -- happy to talk about their favorite dishes on the menu, refill drinks and deliver more food for all-you-can-eat specials.
Food: Many of the tavern's recipes haven't been changed since the '60s, including the ones for their burgers and broasted chicken. The spot offers delicious comfort food like a hearty chili made with the perfect mix of spices, tomatoes, beans and meat served with chunks of cheddar cheese that melt right in. Their Friday all-you-can-eat fish fry is an amazing deal at $9.95, with the fish covered in a light and crispy batter and served with fries and coleslaw.
Liquid consumption: One thing that has evolved with the times is the drink menu, which offers a regularly changing selection of craft beer like the hoppy Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and the sweet and fruity Wittekerke Framboise. While owners usually keep the selection small to avoid being overwhelming and keep the product fresh, the bar currently has plenty of Oktoberfest brews on tap.
Music: Singer and pianist Roger Pauly has been performing at The Village Tavern for 25 years, running singalongs on Fridays where he gets customers to join in for popular tunes like "Do-Re-Mi." Bands play every Saturday, including a mix of blues, country and pop acts. Thursday is open mic night.
Parking: There are plenty of spots in the bar's free lot.
Overall: The Village Tavern is a spot with real staying power.