The stories embodied in Springfield’s locally owned and family-operated taverns through the years are the basis for Tavern Talk: Old Taverns and Tales in Springfield, Illinois, a new book by local husband and wife authors Bobby and Sandy Orr.
The book opens with a disclaimer that the volume “was compiled from several sources, many of whom had been drinking,” but the publication gives a sense of the Springfield tavern tradition and the long history associated with the establishments and the families that have operated them. Coincidentally, it was a family connection that inspired the book.
“My dad, Bob Vose, we call him a ‘walking encyclopedia,”‘ said co-author Sandy Orr. “He delivered ice in the late 1930s and 1940s, and then was a water meter reader, so he was in the basement of every tavern in Springfield for years.”
“My dad is in his 90s but still has a sharp memory,” Sandy Orr said. “We’d drive around with him and he’d say, ‘Oh, such-and-such bar was right there, and so-and-so owned it.’”
The Orrs began documenting Vose’s reminiscences, did several years of research, tracked down some historic photographs, and even purchased an ad in Illinois Times seeking stories and images for the book.
The biggest surprise for co-author Bobby Orr was the number of taverns that had been in the same Springfield location under the same name for 70 or more years.
“Springfield has a rich history of those local taverns. It was almost like a parish, a church, in the neighborhood, and people grew up with them,” Bobby Orr said. “You had your local grocery store nearby and your local tavern nearby. People in the 50s and 60s grew up knowing that local tavern was there.
“These taverns were your friends, you knew them, kids were welcome, families were welcome,” Bobby Orr said. “Every Friday night people went somewhere for fish and that was normally to a local tavern.”
The Orrs are planning a second Tavern Talk volume that will cover tavern chili in Springfield, plus the influence of organized crime in local taverns years ago.
“We’ve already got a few really interesting stories,” Bobby Orr said.
Tavern Talk is available at Route 66 Motorheads Bar and Grill at 600 Toronto Road, Louie’s Bar at 3110 Stanton, and through online book retailers such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.