NORMAL — What appears to be an average sports bar and restaurant in Normal has a long and iconic history.
The popular hang-out Pub II is perhaps best known for $4 pitchers on Wednesdays, cheddar cheese balls and a famous bartender.
The business, 102 N. Linden St., is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month. It received one of the first liquor licenses when Normal began allowing liquor in 1974.
“Prior to 1974, there were no bars or liquor stores. You could not get a drink,” said co-owner Terry Stralow.
The watering hole is popular among college students and locals. Stralow said often families will eat lunch and dinner there. After 9 or 10 p.m., the bar and restaurant, which employs about 50 people, becomes a different place, catering more to the college crowd.
During football season, the bar often shows 10 different games on six big-screen and 25 42-inch TVs.
“That's a big draw for people. They know they can come here and watch any game they want to,” Stralow said.
A patron could have an appetizer, sandwich and drink for about $10. Menu items include pizza, burgers, sandwiches and appetizers such as chicken wings and quesadillas.
Mike Johnson of Bloomington has been a customer for about 30 years and said the inexpensive food keeps him coming back.
“And it's quick, which is good for a working man,” Johnson said.
Another draw is the outdoor patio, which keeps business hopping in the summer months.
Inside Pub II, the walls are lined with Chicago White Sox, Cubs, Blackhawks and various Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University sports memorabilia.
Jake Stone's pants also hang on the wall.
Stone became a local celebrity when he was featured on a national State Farm commercial. He played a State Farm agent answering a customer call in the middle of the night. Stone has been a part-time bartender at Pub II for the last five years.
“It's funny because we get calls all the time from people wanting to know when he was working. They want to come by and get a picture with him and he accommodates everyone,” Stralow said.
Stone gave the famous khaki pants he wore in the commercial to Pub II. They are signed, framed and hanging above double doors in the main room of the bar.
In 1998, Pub II was voted one of the top 100 college bars in the U.S. in an online survey by Playboy Magazine. The magazine praised the business for the affordable food, drink specials and the college bar atmosphere.
“I like the atmosphere, the people and the food. It's good food for a cheap price,” said Chad Anderson of Bloomington, a customer for 25 years.
Anderson is at the pub at least once a week to have a beer and watch sports games. He remembers when he started visiting as a college student and it was half the size it is today.
Until 1995, the pub shared the building with Vitesse Cycle Shop, which moved to another location. Pub II then took over the rest of the building and expanded. Now, the 4,000 square-foot bar and restaurant can seat 150 on the patio and 190 inside.
Gary Mintun, kitchen manager, has worked at Pub II for about 32 years.
“The atmosphere is very fun. Everybody gets along. When there are problems, we have good problem solvers here,” Mintun said.
Stralow and partner John Rokos also own Pub I Lounge & Package Liquor, 505 W. Market St., which opened in 1973 in Bloomington.
Pub II was originally planned to be a liquor store, but because town officials thought Normal had too many liquor stores already, it opened as a restaurant and bar, Stralow said. Rokos said Pub II wouldn't have been able to open without the support of former Normal Mayor Carol Reitan.
Rokos and Stralow said they aren't sure what the future holds for the business, but they would like to see it continue as a staple uptown.
“I would like to expand more, but we're kind of landlocked,” Stralow said. “We'll keep this place running the best we can and maybe pass it on to our children.”