After 27 years, Kam's getting new owner

After 27 years, Kam's getting new owner

CHAMPAIGN — No, Illini fans, Kam's isn't closing. But it is getting a new owner.

The Campustown bar beloved by many students and alumni is being sold, longtime owner Eric Meyer told The News-Gazette.

"I have sold my interest in Kam's after 27 years. The buyers plan on running Kam's as normal and will reopen for the school year," Meyer said in an email Wednesday evening. "I want to thank my great staff, our students, alumni and the great university community."

Meyer didn't divulge any other details about the sale Wednesday.

But on Thursday morning's "Penny for Your Thoughts" show on WDWS, Meyer told host Brian Barnhart that the new owners include a current campus bar owner and a former campus bar owner.

"So there's still a little bit of tradition I think being carried forward," said Meyer, who worked his way through college as a bartender at Kam's from 1981 to 1984.

Meyer said he was "a little nervous walking out of the store for the last time, realizing you're no longer going to be the owner in about an hour. It was a wonderful run, blessed by so many great customers and alumni and the support of my family. And we always called our staff members the 'Kamily.'"

The full interview is below:

A sign posted the bar at 618 E. Daniel St., C, had fans wondering on Wednesday: "Meyer family thanks you. 27 years. Kamily Forever."

Recent UI business graduate Sam LeRoy said the photo was floating around a messaging group he's in, calling it a "scary rumor."

Kam's is popular with sororities and fraternities, but not exclusively. It was active in promoting Greek reunion weekend in early July — its Twitter account tweeted "Holy hangover" on July 15 — and has been open this summer like other campus bars, LeRoy said.

Kam's Twitter bio says it's been "home of the Drinking Illini for more than 30 years" — and it was a favorite stop among students long before that, too.

It's where future Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman and her late husband, Gill, met for morning coffee after 9 a.m. labor economics class three days a week in the 1960s.

During what became known as "10 o'clock class," the judge said recently, "we did not notice the smell of stale beer or the stickiness of the floor. We loved the white ironstone mugs that the coffee was served in. Of course, we mostly loved the company."

Deron Williams, who starred on Illinois' 2005 NCAA basketball runner-up, still remembers it as his "go-to spot" after every home game. Former Microsoft executive Jeanne Bliss, from the Class of '81, was a regular as well, given that the bar "was essentially an annex" to her sorority and that "they treated us like gold over there."

Kam's has remained one of the first stops of alumni on trips back to campus — from PGA Tour star Steve Stricker to Deputy Governor (and mother of two former bartenders) Leslie Munger to '80s bartender turned Ernst & Young investigator Donna Ross Daniels.

"Having returned to Kam's several times since graduation," Daniels said, "I noticed it still looks — and smells — the same."

Munger said she met her husband John in the basement of Kam's when he and his fraternity brothers crashed her sorority's alumni party during one Homecoming weekend.

"My sorority group had rented out the basement," she said. "We were both new alums, right out of school. That's where it started, right there by the Chief logo in the basement of Kam's.

"Our boys ended up at the U of I and they both ended up working at Kam's. That's why Kam's is so special to our family. We wouldn't have our family without Kam's."

Meyer said he has a consulting contract with the new owners to help them with the transition "for some time." He also plans to continue as part owner of Pia's Sports Bar and Grill, 1609 W. Springfield Ave., C, and Bentley's Pub at 419 N. Neil St. in downtown Champaign.

LeRoy, for one, is just glad to hear the bar will reopen for business.

"Many students love Kam's because it's the Illini bar and people feel like they belong, regardless of their social group," he said. "It's home to many traditions, like Blue Guys and pictures in front of the beer-garden murals, that make you feel connected to your classmates and alums."

This story has been updated with new details about the sale and comments from Eric Meyer.

At uofi150.news-gazette.com

Head to our special UI-at-150 website, which we’re updating daily, to read 58 alumni memories of Kam’s love connections, sticky floors, cheap beer and the epic snowball fight between the Illini football and baseball teams after last call in 1985.

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