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This week’s stop in our video series on local businesses with stories to tell: The Illini Inn, which is closing in on 100,000 members in its famous Mug Club.

As students moved in Thursday, the countdown toward 100,000 Mug Club members at the Illini Inn moved forward.

It’s at 99,806 and climbing daily, Supreme Mug Master Josh Pearson said. The plan is to hit the magic mark next Friday, when the Campustown hot spot will celebrate Mug Club Night (8-11 p.m.) by recognizing its 100,000th member via raffle. The thirst-quenching grand prize: $1 draft beer for life.

“Free would be better, but we can’t actually do that,” said Pearson, the pub’s general manager.

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As of Thursday, there were 99,806 members of the Mug Club at the Illini Inn, which tracks the total on a sign behind the bar.

The Mug Club got its start in the 1970s, with beer-loving customers joining the exclusive group by chugging a frosty mug as the joint went nuts. The reward: an orange business card (name, date, membership number) and a line in one of several ledgers stored behind the bar.

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Josh Pearson flips through a ledger containing names of Mug Club members.

Besides an endless supply of cheap, cold beer, lucky No. 100,000 will receive a cleverly designed gold-plated membership card that includes “Expiration Date: Never.”

“We wanted a way to celebrate getting to 100,000, which will be the most significant number we’ll see in our lifetime,” said Pearson, who joined in 2002 as a student attending Illinois State. “We’re talking 50 years of tradition.”

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.

News-Gazette