WOODSTOCK – If the tie-dyed tapestries, beaded curtains and lava lamps don’t hook you, it’s likely the music, food and people will.
“I’ve been coming here since it was Uncle Dan’s,” said Duke Rustile, a Miller 64 on the bar in front of him at Liquid Blues in Woodstock. “I like the old hippie feel. And the food’s good and the [pool] tables are not bad, except for when I lose. Then the tables are terrible.”
On any given evening, long-time Woodstock residents like Rustile might mix with people from communities both near and far. Although tucked away as it is a bit below street level at 126 N. Benton St., this bar and eatery has a far-reaching reputation for great music and fun.
Liquid Blues added to its accolades over the summer when it achieved Top 12 ranking on Thrillist’s list of Best Illinois Bars Not in Chicago.
“The town made famous by ‘Groundhog Day’ should be just as famous for this psychedelic dive, but it isn’t,” wrote Matt Lynch and Jay Gentile of Thrillist.com. “Sure, offbeat touches like lava lamps and beaded curtains are nice and kitschy, but what makes this place stand out is just how much fun it is.
“Throw in energetic live bands and a must-have Friday fish fry, and we dare you [double-dog, son] not to have a good time here.”
Forty-seven-year-old Jim Bykowski opened Liquid Blues with the backing of his mother, Sherry Bykowski, about 14 years ago. On a recent Wednesday evening, Bykowski readied to greet the folks who love open jam night at the bar.
“Tonight we’ll be really busy,” he said, explaining that at 7 p.m. and again at 9 p.m., a pair of exceptionally talented local bands would fire up the crowd before opening things up to anyone who desired a turn.
“These musicians, it’s like downtown Chicago blues,” he said. “It’s that good.”
Several years ago, Bykowski about doubled the size of Liquid Blues, expanding into an adjacent building and adding a dining area that is available for private parties. He also has a gaming area set apart from the main barroom, with vintage ’60s concerts playing on three video screens and headsets available for anyone who cares to listen in while waiting for a gaming machine to open.
“I grew up as a hippie,” Bykowski said of the place’s theme. “And I love to go to the city and go to small clubs and listen to blues music. My favorite things are playing pool and listening to music.
“When this place became available, I thought it was perfect,” he said. “It had a pool table, and it had a stage.”
Wearing a tie-dyed shirt of bright fuschias, oranges, yellows, reds and purples made by his son, Andrew Bykowski, who now runs a store called Blues Inspired on the Square, Jim Bykowski said one of Liquid Blues’ main draws is its comfortable atmosphere.
Everyone is welcome, he said, but troublemakers are quickly disinvited.
Liquid Blues also features an impressive variety of craft beers, including Lazy Magnolia Pecan and Narwhal on tap, and specialty hard liquors, such as William Wolf Pecan Bourbon Whiskey, Monkey Shoulder and Pig’s Nose scotches, and Old Overholt Rye.
For those who are hungry, Bykowski especially recommended checking out the N’awlins-esque catfish po-boy ($9) or even the macaroni and cheese ($8.50), the latter of which is made with a white wine and buttermilk sauce.
“It’s really interesting,” he said.
Woodstock resident Terry Koehler said he’d highly recommend the po-boy, as well as the place, to anyone who has yet to experience Liquid Blues.
The Vietnam War-era veteran sat on a stool near Rustile, a Pabst Blue Ribbon before him, and a plasma ball shooting sparks toward its glass surface on the bar to his left.
“The family that owns this place, that sets the tone for everything that goes on here,” Koehler said. “And the food’s excellent.”
Business: Liquid Blues
Location: 126 N. Benton St., Woodstock
Hours: 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Kitchen hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Information: www.liquidbluesbar.com; 815-337-7254; Liquid Blues on Facebook