I’m still kind of in a post-holidays reverie haze and in a frame of mind where I look back on years gone by, growing up in Illinois. Over the past year or so, I’ve written some Yelp reviews of places in my hometown of Alton that I know like the back of my hand. Some I love, some I don’t. I thought it might be fun to post my five favorite reviews, in no particular order, to feel a little good old fashioned Alton nostalgia.
Bubby’s & Sissy’s — 5/5 stars
Best bar in Alton. It’s always a fantastic time here on Fridays and Saturdays. Hilarious drag shows, adequate little dance floor, nice outdoor area. Best place in town to let loose and really be yourself, no matter who you are.
Except if you’re a bigot. Then please, stop being who you are.
Schnucks — 5/5 stars
Love this place. For being an Alton grocery store, it has a great beer and alcohol selection, and I like all the nifty bagels and cookies in the bakery section. The hot and cold food from the deli hasn’t disappointed me. Checkers there are almost always friendly, no matter when you come, and I can’t say I’ve purchased any bad produce from Schnucks.
I’ll always hold up grocery stores to the standard of this, my hometown Schnucks, that I’ve been to countless times, at all hours of day. When I was home last Christmas I realized in telling my girlfriend about stories of growing up in Alton just how much of my life was spent in this store, and how many memories happened. And you never know what old friend you’ll see going down the aisles.
My one complaint is that they closed the video store awhile back. I mean, I guess I get that video/DVD/game rental isn’t the big business it once was, but I have a ton of memories in that area, and they don’t seem to have found anything new to go there. Could the video rental really have been doing more harm than good being there? Could they just put up one rack with all the Police Academy VHS tapes so I can go and rent them three for a dollar when I’m sick and at home?
Spencer Gifts — 3/5 stars
It’s fun to stop in here every now and then to see what t-shirts and hats the kids are buying these days, and to see what amusing sexual board games they have. I kind of miss the good old days (of 10-15 years ago) at this Spencer’s when they had the blacklight section in the back. I guess blacklight isn’t the big thing now that it was in the late 90s, but I’m pretty sure that back section is where I first smelled the scent of marijuana. Stoners were drawn to the glow-in-the-dark aspect, I suppose. I think the employees feebly attempted to cover up the stench with incense, but it couldn’t really cover up that dank herbal scent.
Big Muddy Pub — 1/5 stars
This is a bar I’ve been dragged to way too many times and for reasons I still don’t understand. If it’s up to me, I won’t be back again. It has a basic problem that there’s no good place to sit anywhere if you have a group of friends with you.
Assuming there are seats open at the bar at primetime, when you most want to be out drinking (and that’s a big assumption because there probably won’t be seats open), your group is spread several people wide and not everyone can hear everyone over the music and other people. You want to be in that room because it’s where the beer is, and where most of the people are, but it’s hard to hang out in there because the space is too narrow and awkward. Then of course because you’re having to stand behind your friend who’s sitting at the bar, you’re constantly moving out of the way of someone who’s in line for the bathroom.
The upstairs is never open (that I’ve seen), so forget about that.
Then, on the ground level past the room with the bar and bar stools, you’ve got the big open room with ample tables and seating where they put bands. Whenever a band is there, the band usually sucks, so it’s no fun to sit there then. Whenever no bands are there, the room is too dark and empty to hang out in and not feel like a weirdo. Or they turn on the light and then it’s too bright. You’re never in the sweet spot when you’re in that room, with the right amount of lighting and non-shitty music.
Ironically, the best place to hang out at Big Muddy is outside the back door of the bar. Sometimes you can get away with taking a drink out there with you, and it can be fun to stand there and look at what’s left of downtown Alton’s industry. But I find it funny and telling that the best place to hang out is not actually part of the business. It’s just a place where people stand when they go to Big Muddy because the bar itself isn’t much to speak of, and yet all your friends want to go there anyway, so you can’t just leave without having a drink.
Steak ‘n Shake — 4/5 stars
This Steak n Shake is a true Alton establishment. I have a lot of fond memories from coming here late at night and being served by the dead-eyed middle aged blonde waitress who seems not to be working there anymore. I think she probably hated us, but then again, she hated everyone.
A lot of people like Steak n Shake fries, but I have to say I never did. They are too small, and it’s awkward to eat them after you put ketchup or cheese on them unless you use a fork, which is less enjoyable. But everything else here is great. I never leave Steak n Shake without having a shake, usually one of the side by side shakes. Some of the seasonal shakes are good. The frisco melt and varieties of the chili mac tend to be my go-to entrees, as I look for more complex flavors than the standard steakburgers can provide (although those are usually good, too).
I’m not gonna say that I always get great service here. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes the food is better than others. But if it’s after midnight and you’re looking for a place in Alton that’s open and you’re liable to find someone you know to chat with, or else some good weirdos to look at, Steak n Shake is your place.
There’s really never a bad reason to go here. I’ve been with friends, with family, on dates, after a party, after the downtown bars. I’ve even gone by myself to sip coffee and read a copy of Hamlet.
My tradition is to always get a gumball on the way out.