This week’s stop in our new video series on local businesses with stories to tell: The Esquire Lounge in downtown Champaign, which pays tribute to late, great regulars with personalized plaques on the back of barstools.
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The first plaque, which was dedicated to Ray Woodis after the University of Illinois professor died in 1992, bends the truth just a bit.
On the back of a barstool facing the large west window along Walnut Street, it reads: “You may find this hard to believe, but I only come here every couple of weeks.”
“That is not true,” said Esquire co-owner and historian Pedro Heller. “But it’s funny.”
Woodis, like the other 32 men and women recognized on barstools, was an Esquire regular. His passing sparked a tradition that is both popular and poignant.
“People come in and seek out their loved one’s or friend’s seat to sit in,” said bartender Traci Taylor, in her 38th year at the Esquire. “On birthdays, they’ll buy their favorite brand of beer and set it on (the table) in front of their barstool — and not drink it.
“It’s a nice way to memorialize people who have spent a lot of time and a lot of money here.”
Customers and employees make plaque recommendations, including a few words to include underneath the name. For example, Karen Darr’s nameplate (above) contains a recipe for chocolate chip cookies (she frequently treated the Esquire staff). Former Champaign detective Gary Wright’s includes “Leonard the Egg Man,” the name Wright gave when a suspect in an undercover drug investigation wanted to know who was knocking at his door.
“It worked,” Heller said. “They opened the door.”
You’ll find the barstools spread randomly throughout the pub.
One day, the 61-year-old Taylor will get her own.
“It’s going to read ‘Clocked out,’” she said.