Fond memories of the Eagle

When looking back at fond memories or “the good ol’ times”, people often associate that with a certain place. Whether that be the small town diner with the best pancakes in town, that one record store that always had undiscovered vinyl or the secret spot by the lake where the blue water washed away any stress. For Hyde Park, that coveted spot was The Eagle.

For 17 years, The Eagle, which was located at 5311 S. Blackstone Ave., where Giordano’s is now located, opened its doors to anyone and everyone in Hyde Park to come drink, eat and make lasting friendships and memories. Those who knew The Eagle and frequented its homey, wooden interior all seem to say the same thing.

“It was a unique place open to people’s initiatives and creativity. Everyone knew each other, and everyone welcomed each other,” said Bruce Thomas, long time Hyde Parker and an Eagle regular when it was open.

Thomas said the people who frequented The Eagle represented the Hyde Park community really well in all its diversity. From University of Chicago (U. of C.) professors to college students and writers to activists, Thomas said you could not ever assume that you were brighter or better educated than anyone at The Eagle, because everyone was equal there.

“Everyone was equal because we were all there. It was a little space that created a special kind of equality,” he said.

Lines were blurred between who worked there and who came there, because everyone would come to know each other as a sort of family. Claudia Traudt was a waitress and bartender at The Eagle for three years, and said the comradery among the staff and the patrons was wonderful.

“The complete directness of ‘Here I am and there are you,’ and being straight between each other was always true,” she said.

In its glory days, The Eagle established itself as the local pub that served 85-cent beers and $1.50 burgers. The interior made a name for itself with stained glass windows, Tiffany glass, old black and white movie stills that covered the walls and a long, wooden curved bar where people engaged in conversation and constant laughter.

Thomas said it really was like home… even in the most literal sense of things.

“Someone told me a story that at one time, everyone had their own martini glasses there that was specific to them,” he said.

The Eagle did indeed seem to give the definition of the local pub a whole new meaning. Traudt said that people would look out for each other, no matter what race, age or gender they were.

“One story I remember is that one of our regulars named Pete ran after these people that stiffed us one night,” she laughed. “He was gone for a while and he finally came back huffing and puffing with the money in his hand, saying that he had chased them into a dead end.”

The small space that only fit about 70 or 80 people provided a safe space for anyone who came in. Both Thomas and Traudt couldn’t recall a bad experience in any of their many memories of The Eagle.

On Sept. 30, 1980, The Eagle shut its doors for the last time, and it’s still not clear if it was over a dispute over money or personal conflictions. Regardless, when it closed, the people of Hyde Park treated it as if it was a death in the community.

“It left a huge, gaping hole in my life and lots of people’s lives,” Thomas said. “The fact that it existed, if only for 17 or so years, and became so important to so many people means that it is still serving as a kind of social glue or common currency.”

Because it impacted so many people in its fairly short time, Thomas planned an Eagle Reunion for people to meet up and share in the fond memories of what once was. The last reunion was in 2004, and this year marks the 35th anniversary of The Eagle’s demise.

On Oct. 1, Thomas invites anyone to celebrate The Eagle at Jimmy’s, 1172 E. 55th St., at 5 p.m. until “the last celebrant staggers out” for a chance to renew friendships or make new friends and perpetuate the memory of what was a very special place.

“If The Eagle had continued to exist, I would have kept a shift there for life. No doubt about it,” Traudt said.

In the nation’s third largest city, it seemed that The Eagle was that one place where everybody knows your name.


[Via: Hyde Park Herald]

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