The Pantagraph from Bloomington, Illinois on October 7, 1994 · Page 11
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The Pantagraph from Bloomington, Illinois · Page 11

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Bloomington, Illinois
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Friday, October 7, 1994
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Page 11
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n n DOTlDTfDd Friday, Oct. 7, 1994 The Pantagraph o Grand Hotel packs 'em in It really doesn't matter what we say about this place. Whether we like, or don't like, the ambiance, the food, the whatever, we're not going to change folks' thoughts about this inveterate eatery. This is a restaurant that was popular long before we were doing the TUG thing, and will undoubtedly still be popular long after we've gnawed our last piece of fried chicken. On the night we chose to visit there last week, autos filled every nook and cranny in front, around the sides, and in the back of its building. (A traffic jam is the norm most nights this place is open.) While we waited, we noticed many people trotting . into the place on foot presumably neighborhood clientele to pick up big brown bags of take-out orders. This is not a fast food, Chinese restaurant we're talking about; It's The Grand Hotel. What is it about this place that's captured the imagination of generation after generation of 1 1201 E. Emerson St., Bloomington 309-827-6410 Food: 12 Service: Vi Dinner hours: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Reservations accepted. Attire: casual. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Full bar service. Price range: $4.50-$14.50. No-smoklng area not available. Not handicapped accessible. Dining room and restroom extremely difficult for the handicapped. Bloomington-Normalites? Perhaps it's the Grand Hotel's link to the history, its renown as a hang-out for trapeze artists and circus people. The exterior of the place, with its charming neon sign and pillared front porch, reminds you of an old home somewhere out in the country. Passing through its portal you find an obviously redesigned interior, a reconfiguration of an old home into a tiny, cramped eatery and bar. On the right is the bar, a narrow corridor often crowded by drinkers standing behind the folks who'd come early enough to grab one of the few bar stools. At the far end of the bar is the hostess' station and quasi waiting area. Here one spies a small table, sporting a couple of ashtrays possessing partially smoked cigarettes, as well as a clutter of dishes, acting as a holding space for those waiting for a table in the dining room. Nearby stands an ice machine, coat rack, and the powder rooms. Obviously, close quarters. Just the other side of the bar, through a tiny doorway, are the few small rooms comprising the dining area of The Grand Hotel. The low ceilings, paneled walls and carpeted rooms accommodate a variety of utilitarian tables and chairs. Each table is decked with red-and-white checked, oilcloth covers topped by white, cloth tablecloths and napkins. A basket of crackers, and small bowls of fresh, sliced vegetables carrot sticks, celery, green onions are also proffered. The crowded space is usually noisy, and, although there isn't a non-smoker's section, the ventilation system works well. Perhaps the splendid service draws patrons back to this place. Our waitress was indeed friendly, extremely efficient Surprisingly, while myriad customers must disagree, we don't find its food is particularly interesting. The menu isn't lengthy, but it has a longstanding appeal. A few appetizers onion rings, fried mushrooms, cheese spread accompany the short list of entrees ($4.50-$14.50) including fried chicken (in whole, half, 3-piece all white meat, and other portions), a variety of steaks, . and fried fish. There are also specials throughout the week (for example a whole fried chicken dinner for two on Mondays and Tuesdays) at reduced prices. Dinners include salad, choice of potato (mashed, baked, French fries), and rolls. We started with onion rings, then ordered chicken, all white meat, with mashed potatoes, and a large, New York strip steak with a baker. A small basket of onion rings arrived literally moments after we'd ordered. They were very dark, seemingly overcooked with a crunchy brown, slightly salty exterior. Inside the coating, however, were good slices of crisp, fat, sweet onion. Salads proved to be little bowls of fresh, chopped iceberg lettuce coated with decent dressings. The Roquefort ($1 extra) was coated with a tangy French and a large amount of delicious, crumbled cheese. The entrees arrived soon after we'd finished salads. The New York strip was long, thick, visually appealing. Unfortunately, it had been " under-cooked to a very rare, not medium rare as we'd ordered, and had a extremely tough texture. Fortunately, it had a decent flavor, worth the gnashing of teeth. The accompanying, petite baked potato was well scrubbed, but moist, not fluffy inside, with just fair taste. Two small, but very plump, chicken breasts and a tiny wing were served with a large mound of mashed potatoes. The batter coating on each piece of chicken had been fried to a crisp, medium brown. While the crust had little character besides its crispiness no herbs, spices, or much salt and pepper were evident the meat itself proved moist, cooked throughout, with good flavor. The lumpy mashed were real, somewhat flavorless by themselves, but were helped nicely by sprinklings of salt, pepper and the homemade, pan-fried chicken gravy that had been liberally ladled over the top. The Grand Hotel doesn't change much, which must be what keeps its long line of customers happy. --3 it:. U j ');' : ;-: . ' ' ' ' "" 'V p:': ft t II Guffs dteam ra r l:" irtviJ IB i ilia If I ; coma tme I & r V-1 ! I ' w 1 ...a It's the kind of thing movie buffs f ' - 1 fJlli i. fH! i i 1 " y. have fantasies about. 1 . '. j ? I ;'A j! . it ' "s t 3S! ' ' . You dream of having your own cin- " 1 f ' Ttli J II fi f I S '1 5 " '"' f ema and you dream of being able to . i , j f -Ji, I ,,: book the movies you'd most like to . 1 4 4 ' - Iti' f j w.-4 L . j see on a big screen. '" ; v JL V ''i'lli S rl y- I . . Well, meet one movie buff whose ( ' . , ri $" t ' Ot'r f 1 1 f' ' i fantasies have just come true, cour- ' ! ' 4 y 'f 1 i t -Ji . tesy the Normal Theater. ' s ' t " . lKf. , ; . "l " ' M " ' k v " 1 i' From Oct. 20 through Oct. 29, the 4 ' , , ' ' Normal Theater will host the first , , , (and possibly last) Dan Craft Film " ' 1 I ' " ' "" fiiliiilil.n HI. , r , if, n, , H mi. . - -iri1.il. IIM I ,nf I. 'i .if "i f - - - . . . . , f.ii f , T. i It's the kind of thing movie buffs have fantasies about. You dream of having your own cinema and you dream of being able to book the movies you'd most like to see on a big screen. Well, meet one movie buff whose fantasies have just come true, courtesy the Normal Theater. From Oct. 20 through Oct. 29, the Normal Theater will host the first (and possibly last) Dan Craft Film Festival, a collection of 10 personal favorites that yours truly was given the opportunity to select from a lifetime of moviegoing pleasures, no holds barred. Although one person's pet favorite See DREAM, B6 The PantagraphLLOYD YOUNG After months of debate, fund-raising and renovation, the Normal Theater is set to open tonight. Theater's survival depends on a willing public By DAN CRAFT Pantagraph film critic What you are about to read is not an objective news story about the Normal Theater and its long-awaited, much-delayed return to the land of the living - a return scheduled for tonight, in fact (dedication ceremony outside the theater at 7 p.m., sold-out screening of "Singin' in the Rain" inside at 8 p.m.). In other, more objective, stories, you've read about the theater's history, and how it opened in 1937 with a Bing Crosby musical, and how it represents a classic style of art deco architecture, and how it flourished into the '60s, and how it eventually slid into decline, and how it became a bargain movie house, and how it was crudely disfigured into a two-screen operation in the '80s. In other, equally objective, stories, you've read about the town of Normal's purchase of the long-dormant structure from GKC Theaters in Springfield, and the funding of the theater's comeback through private donations and federal block grants, and the arduous restoration of both the cinema's exterior and interior, and the several delays after announced opening dates. Alas, the time for objectivity has come to an end. As the Normal Theater embarks this weekend on its grandiose plan as a full-time specialized movie house and performing arts venue, something closer to evangelical zealotry is in order. For as of today, we in Bloomington-Normal and surrounding communities are being allowed a golden, resoundingly rare, opportunity in the months ahead - an opportunity that may render us practically unique in the country. Not even cities the size of Chicago or St. Louis have their own full-time specialized movie house showing classic, foreign, independent and repertory films on a regular basis. (The closest things to the Normal in Chicago - the Music Box and Fine Arts theaters -show first-run foreign and art films only; closer to home, Champaign's New Art Theater also books only first-run fare.) The fact that a mix of lively arts activity - theater, music and more -is also being worked into the programming scenario makes the Normal's status as a one-of-a-kind operation even more pronounced. Although finishing touches on the restoration work will contin ue in the months ahead, the impressive array of events scheduled between now and mid-December (see accompanying schedule) is concrete proof that the Town of Normal is deadly serious in its intents. And now the burden of keeping those intents alive and well and kicking in B-N lies with us, the public who, in the end, are destined to benefit most. The naysayers and doom prophets will likely have a field day along the way, of course - particularly those who Br y l it' Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse star in the Normal Theater's sold-out screening of "Singin' in the Rain" following the 7 p.m. dedication ceremony tonight. view the Normal Theater as a white , elephant of thundering proportions. Yes, it's a fact that movie theaters that have tried to survive on a regimen of classic and specialized film fare have repeatedly failed around the country, especially in recent times. Courtesy the inroads of home video and the information highway, we have ' the entire history of the cinema at our fingertips on a daily basis. And, yes, it's a fact that the rabid movie cult that swept the college campuses of the '60s and early '70s -. when Truffaut and the Marx Bros, were kings, when film history and film aesthetics were all that mattered - has all but disappeared. Today, only "Ace Ventura" and "Speed" matter, just as ', they do everywhere else, be it shopping' mall or campus quad. But there is no . law on the books that says we here in Bloom-ington-Normal can't buck the trends that seem to rule elsewhere. In an era when ' the aesthetics of . the moviegoing ' experience are being further devalued with each new intrusion of home entertainment technology, we ; should rejoice at ; the chance we're being given - and may never get again: i.e., to see a film the way, if not God, at least the Warner Brothers, intended. Just think: John Ford's powerful "The Searchers" (Oct 23) in its original wide-screen parameters, looming before us with a majesty and impact that no videocassette or letterboxed laserdisc can possibly equal. Just think: Charles Laughton's mes- See SURVIVAL, B6

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