Tavern serves great burgers that are easy on the pocketbook
Stepping into Chalkey’s Tavern is like stepping back through time, and not in a kitschy way where it was done on purpose.
The walls are covered in advertisements that look like they’ve been there for decades and despite their age, the prices are still correct: a cheeseburger as large as it is on the sign for $5 is a steal.
For what it’s worth, the burger was delicious, and they’ve been at it for so long the rest of the food probably is, too. COVID-19 has put the clamps on a lot of these smaller places, so they’re limited to burgers.
There aren’t many frills to Chalkey’s: Anyone looking for french fries or onion rings should go elsewhere, but they have great chili and the burgers are cheap. What it lacks in menu-size and frills, it makes up in charm.
A step through the door and customers will be greeted and asked who they know or who they’re related to. Streator is a small town and Chalkey’s is a remnant of the old days, when every neighborhood had a bar that doubled as a limited corner store and restaurant.
Out of cigarettes? Chalkey’s still sells them. Need a bag of chips? They’ve got that, too.
The building is old. Like, really old. Imagine how old it must be, then add 30 years to that. This isn’t even the building’s first stop: It was moved from 913 Johnson St. in the 1920s when a team of horses dragged it to 12th Street.
It’s looked about the same ever since: Photos run in old Times-Press newspapers from the 1950s could be colorized and the place would look exactly the same today. The same old freezer sits on the west wall, the walls covered in decorations and even the cash register look like they date back to when the building first moved.
Everything adds up to create charm unlike anything found elsewhere; it’s an old bar that smells like an old bar but that in no way affected the food.
The atmosphere is something that needs to be experienced firsthand. Finding a restaurant that’s been in one family serving the same food for nearly 100 years is a rarity.
I travel a lot when I get enough time and my favorite part is always stopping in the small towns nobody stops in to search for a tavern or a bookstore that doesn’t see anyone outside of locals. Those landmarks are what gives small towns their personality. If Streator were to be used as an adjective, it’d be used to describe Chalkey’s.
• The Mystery Diner is an employee at Shaw Media Illinois. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.
IF YOU GO
WHERE: 604 E. 12th St., Streator