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SUMMER / FALL 2019      © 2021 812 Magazine

Vintage Eateries

Enjoy some of Bloomington's vintage restaurants.

Runcible Spoon, est. 1976

412 E. 6th St.

This funky café’s name comes from a line in “The Owl and the Pussycat,” a poem by Edward Lear: “They dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon.”

The walls of the cozy, rustic restaurant is lined with bookshelves filled old books and it has its own quirky charm, like the koi fish that once swam in the restaurant bathroom. This ersatz aquarium earned the restaurant a spot on the top ten list of greatest bathrooms on “World’s Greatest” on the Travel Channel.

When original owner Jeff Danielson opened the Spoon, it was the only coffee roaster in the Midwest. Matt O’Neil, a classically trained Irish chef and faithful customer, took over when Danielson decided to retire. O’Neil says that before he was the owner, he drove 40 miles to come to the Runcible because he liked it that much.

Today, it’s best known for its breakfast/brunch and is praised for its pancakes.

O’Neil believes people like Runcible Spoon because it’s a laid-back place where people can have a good conversation. “John Mellencamp and his kids come in here and get biscuits and gravy and no one bothers them,” he says.

The Irish Lion, est. 1982

212 W. Kirkwood Ave.

Opened in 1882 by Zimri McCollough, the pub and inn was advertised as Lovel Burch – Hotel Bundy European.

Developer Larry McConnaughey bought the building and established the pub as the Irish Lion in 1982. Today, when you walk into the Irish Lion, it feels as if you’re walking into a vintage Irish pub. The wood bar is so convincing, the 1980s sitcom “Cheers” ran a photo of it during the credits. The walls are a taxidermist’s dream, with mounted heads of deer.

The age of the pub may have contributed to reports of paranormal experiences there. Every night at closing, the bartenders are asked to leave a shot of whiskey at the end of the bar to appease the departed, Larry says.

The Irish Lion is known for its coddle, a hearty stew with potatoes, bacon and sausage and the Blarney Puffballs, fried nuggets of cheesy, garlicky potatoes. If you’re not in the mood for food you could just have a pint Guinness.

Nick's English Hut, est. 1927

423 E. Kirkwood Ave.

Nick Hrisomalos immigrated to the United States at 14 with only a third-grade education and settled in Bloomington after his discharge from World War I. He started a tiny shop on North Walnut Street selling peanuts, popcorn and novelties while also shining shoes and cleaning hats.

In the 1970s, waitress Ruth Collier, became a town celebrity for her sharp wit and take-no-guff attitude. According to The College of Beer: The Story of Nick’s English Hut, by Bill Weaver, waitresses viewed Ruthie as an inspiration – “someone who lives within her means, never loses her sense of personal value as a human being and who never gets pushed around.” In 1974, former mayor Frank McCloskey proclaimed Nov. 14 as Ruth Collier Day.

Today, Nick’s may be best known for the classic drinking game “Sink the Biz,” where patrons buy a bucket of their choice of beer. A glass floats in the bucket, and everyone takes turns pouring as much or as little beer as they can into the glass before it sinks. Whoever sinks the glass will have to drink.

Then and now

Kilroy’s Bar and Grill, est. 1975

502 E. Kirkwood Ave.

Most college towns have a pub or two where students gravitate to celebrate sports victories, meet up with friends or just mark the start of the weekend. In Bloomington, that pub is Kilroy’s, named for the iconic doodle with “Kilroy was here” drawn by WWII GI’s on walls across Europe. Since Bill and Linda Prall opened the pub, it has become an icon itself. A line forms around the block every Thursday night starting at 8:30 so students can pay the five-dollar cover charge and receive the coveted T-shirt for that week.

Kilroy’s is known for their daily specials. On Two Dollar Tuesdays, customers can order were pepperoni and mozzarella stuffed breadsticks or a grilled cheese concoction for two dollars.

The Book Nook, est. 1920/The Gables, est. 1931/Buffalouies at the Gables, est. 1982 

114 S. Indiana Ave.

The restaurant we know today as Buffalouies started out in 1919 as the Book Nook, a soda fountain, bookstore and major campus hangout for IU students. In 1927, student and composer Hoagy Carmichael wrote the notes to his famous “Stardust” on the piano here and later described it in his autobiography. "On Indiana Avenue stood the Book Nook, a randy temple smelling of socks, wet slickers, vanilla flavoring, face powder and unread books. Its dim lights, its scarred walls, its marked-up booths and unsteady tables made campus history."

When the Great depression hit, the Book Nook was sold and reopened as “The Gables,” which served up burgers and fries for almost 50 years.

Today, Buffalouie’s, a wing restaurant started by IU alumnus Jay Lieser, occupies the Gables. The Louie in the name and the face on the logo is Jay’s grandfather. USA TODAY has named it one of the top 20 places to eat wings in the country.