Last call for Elburn's Blackberry Bar and Grill
Saturday night's last call at the Blackberry Bar and Grill near Elburn will really be its last call.
That's when the popular spot at Route 47 and Main Street will serve its last beers and burgers.
The Blackberry is the victim of progress; the state transportation department is buying the site to improve the intersection.
"It's just been a very comfortable bar," said Sandy Plante, who bought the place six years ago with her husband, Mark. "Very welcoming."
The one-story building on the northeast corner is a hangout for residents of Kaneville, Sugar Grove, Elburn and Blackberry Township.
Nothing fancy: A bar, video gambling machines, a kitchen, a dining room and a beer garden. In another building on the site, another business, Chuck's Wood-Fired Pizzas, makes pizzas and flatbreads.
The Blackberry is a popular stop for lunch for motorcyclists on group rides. Regulars host birthday parties and other celebrations there. Besides burgers and sandwiches, it has daily specials that include fried chicken on Wednesdays ("it's good and people know that," Plante said), a fish fry on Fridays, ribs on Saturday nights.
Plante calls the dining room "the family room," because that's where people who are dining with their kids can feel comfortable. Youth soccer teams have also gathered for postgame meals with their parents.
Businessmen, blue-collar workers and others eat their lunches at the bar or high-top tables, watching sports on TVs and kibitzing.
The current place is a reincarnation.
The original, called the Blackberry Inn, was destroyed in February 1962 by a horrific fire that killed four people.
According to newspaper accounts, a semitrailer truck was driving south on Route 47 in the middle of a stormy night pulling two tanks: one carrying gasoline, the other oil.
Authorities are not sure exactly what happened. Most believed the truck jackknifed on the icy road and slid to the west, hitting the concrete abutment of a bridge over Blackberry Creek. There was also speculation the tavern already had caught fire and the truck driver jackknifed when he saw the blaze and braked.
In either case, the tanks exploded or ruptured and a fire ensued.
The fire traveled under snow and on top of the creek, as oil and gasoline leaked out. The two-story tavern caught fire. Witnesses had to drive to Elburn and Batavia to call firefighters, because the blaze melted telephone lines. It took hours before firefighters could even approach the truck, and even when they thought all was clear, there was another leak, and one of the tanks blew.
The truck driver, the owner of the Blackberry, the owner's mother and his ex-wife died.
There used to be photos of the fire, and framed newspaper clippings, in the Blackberry. Plante has taken them home, as she prepares to close.
Manager Dawn Faber has known for at least a decade that roadwork was coming to the intersection. She and the former owners hoped, though, that it might take just part of the parking lot and leave the building alone.
But about three years ago, she said, the inn received a certified letter from IDOT explaining the state would be taking the whole parcel through eminent domain. In October, a judge ordered the property to be deeded to the state. The Plantes will receive $710,000,
Faber started working there 18 years ago, when she had a full-time job at a flashlight factory and wanted to make extra money on the side. Getting a job as a server at a bar was a stretch for the woman who didn't like to go to bars by herself.
"I can't just go walk in to a strange bar," Faber said.
Ten years ago, she became its manager.
The location has definitely been positive, Plante said. There's nothing like it nearby. The area is mostly agricultural or large-lot residential, except for the Fishermen's Inn banquet facility. The nearest restaurants and bars are in Batavia, Sugar Grove and Elburn.
The state will replace the Route 47 bridge, including raising it and the road a couple feet to fight flooding issues. It also is putting in left-turn lanes, and replacing the stop signs with traffic lights. The Main Street Road bridge over the creek is also going to be replaced.
Employees have been saying goodbye to favorite patrons for a few months now. One is making plans to open his own place in Sugar Grove, and there is talk some of the employees will follow him there.
Plante said she has no plans to open elsewhere.
"Anywhere else," she said, "is not going to be the Blackberry."