A few weeks ago, the owner of Chantilly Lace here in Springfield announced publicly that he was going to sell the place because business was bad. After that announcement, I posted this which briefly described my history with both Chantilly and the building it occupies.
After that, Former Wingman SK (FWSK) and I decided we needed to stop in to Chantilly one last time before the place was sold and the building likely knocked down to make way for a gas station or a CVS Pharmacy. That night came Friday and it was a really sad experience. Or maybe it was just funny. Really, to me, it was like a Twilight Zone episode.
First, let me say that FWSK was my main wingman, and I his, back when we frequented The Lace in the late '90s, mostly 1997 and 1998. We spent countless weekends (and some Wednesday) nights there drinking and socializing. It got to the point where we knew all the regulars and they knew us. And while we generally had a lot of fun, we often referred to the place as The Chantilly Losers Club. That was more of a self-deprecating term of endearment than anything else, but there was a kernel of hidden truth to it.
Anyway, Friday we dragged Mrs. TEH out with us to be a designated driver (something we rarely bothered with back in the day) and to have someone to listen to our old war (OK, party) stories.
I expected to find a very small crowd there. Something on the order of what used to be there on their off nights. In other words, a few people at the main bar and maybe a few others at tables near the dance floor. Instead what we found was pathetic.
We pulled into the parking lot about 10:15 and were able to park right next to the door because there were only two other cars in the lot. At that point, I knew this wasn't going to be good.Back when, FWSK and I would usually have to park across Fifth Street at one of the businesses there because the Chantilly lot would be full.
We walked in and passed the old "barber chair" that used to serve as the seating place for the bouncer/carder. It was, of course, empty. Music was playing though. We went into the dance floor area to the right and saw that the only people on that side were two middle-aged couples sitting in the far corner. The dance floor was covered with the swirl of a thousand points of lights from the mirror ball. But no one was on the dance floor. Hell, no one but those two couples were in the room. We stood there for a moment and one of the foursome sarcastically called to us, "Come join the party".
We waved to them but moved on to the other side of the building to get some drinks. We bellied up to the main bar in the "quiet section" as we used to call it because it was segregated from the blaring music from the dace floor area. There were four people there; two behind the bar and two sitting on stools in front of the bar. I think all four were employees though. One of the bartenders asked what he could get for us. FWSK and I just wanted a couple of domestic light beers like we used to order. Coors Light was on sale, so we went for that. Mrs. TEH wanted her customary one Cosmopolitan. The bartender deferred to one of his cohorts because he had no idea how to make a Cosmo.
While both bartenders were getting our drinks, FWSK asked, "So, when do you close?" The bartender getting out beer replied, "Three AM". FWSK clarified that he meant when does the establishment close for good. The girl making the Cosmo jumped in quickly and said, "Never!"
FWSK and I just looked at each other thinking this chick is in complete denial or in complete PR mode. We asked about the story regarding the place being sold and the bartender getting us our beers said it would only sell when someone offered $2.5 million for the place. I picked up and waved the twenty I had laid on the counter and said I was a little short of the asking price but we'd still take the beers.
We got our drinks, went back to the dance floor area and sat at a table. The music was still playing and there was even a DJ, but he soon left the room to go sit at the bar. Not long after he left, the Eric Clapton song he was playing began to skip. Finally, one of the women from the only other group of customers in the place went to retrieve the DJ so he could remedy the annoying situation. After that, there was no DJ and the bartender unfamiliar with Cosmopolitans came in and hooked the sound system up to a laptop that just tracked tunes for the rest of our stay.
One of the couples at the other table briefly got up to dance but soon their group decided to leave the place. At that point, the three of us were the only customers. And really, we were just tourists there to visit an old stomping ground.
FWSK and I reminisced about the old days 10 years ago and also about the REALLY old days when the place was Shakey's Pizza. Back in the late '60s and into the '70s, it was where every kid on the south side town of went for their birthday. If the building was going to be sold and torn down, there was the homage to that experience to be paid as well.
Thing is, even today, the building contains many of the features of the old Shakey's: The wood ceilings, the archways, and especially the old fireplace (pictured below next to the empty dance floor). So it was not just about memories of being drunk divorced guys in their 30s, but also of kids of 10 or 12 enjoying pizza and soda while the piano player did his thing next to the fireplace circa 1971.
In the hour or so we were there, FWSK and I wondered around, mugged for pictures taken by the Mrs. and lamented the passing of so much time. I also went around a took a few pictures of the place with my iPhone (which explains the poor quality of the pics here).
I also noted, after the other four customers left, how strange it was to be in what, for the time being, seemed to be a living museum. We were back at a place from our past, but it really wasn' t the same without the people. It was like the place was still open just for us to come back and say our goodbyes before it actually died. I told FWSK that it was like we were ghosts haunting the place.
As I was taking this picture of the Indian that stands guard between the restrooms, the Cosmo-free bartender came over and asked if I wanted a picture with someone standing next to the Indian. Huh? No. It was just then that I got the Twilight Zone feeling. I started to feel like the whole thing was a dream or a well-attended and elaborate stage set to indulge my nostalgic urges.
We decided that would stay only until the auto-music played a song that was familiar from back when we frequented the place and it was still packed to the rafters every weekend. Finally, that song came on: The Electric Slide. FWSK dashed onto the the dance floor and began electric sliding. I told Mrs. TEH to watch how I usually attempted the Electric Slide and the disastrous results that would follow. I ran onto the dance floor and body-slammed FWSK throwing off his routine and about knocking him down. And that's about how it was back when too. I was no better at The Macarena yesteryear either.
While the Electric slide was finishing up, we decided to leave. We walked out the door and started to get into our van. Suddenly the non-Cosmo bartender poked his head out of the front door and said, something like, "Thanks for coming and come back and bring some friends."
That completed the Twilight Zone thing for me. I expected the next morning to wake up and find out that the building had been sold and already demolished a week ago. It was just too surreal.
I leave you with an appropriate song and a picture of one of the few remaining nostalgia items that used to dominate the place back in the 80s when it was a nostalgia restaurant and bar.