DANVILLE – The Black Bear has long been a part of local lore and the landscape along Hungry Hollow Road, west of Danville.
The landmark, which turned 90 this year, is celebrating the milestone as well as its new ownership with a grand opening event this weekend. The festivities, which include live entertainment and a special menu, kicked off Friday and will continue today and Sunday.
Laramie and Linda Messmore, who also own Illini Mobile Stages, purchased the Black Bear two months ago and have made many improvements, including a second-floor “Bear Cave” that may be rented for gatherings and an outdoor “Bear Garden.”
Laramie Messmore said he is good friends with the Black Bear’s previous owners, Chip and Jamie Dove, and couldn’t pass up the chance to continue the business’ legacy.
Although a sign near the road touts the business as The Bear, Messmore said he has named the establishment The Black Bear Bar and Grill.
Another aspect of the Black Bear that Messmore hopes to change is its reputation as a rough-and-tumble kind of place.
“I’ve played live music in here, and I know what the reputation is,” he said.
Earlier this week, a group of regulars who gathered for conversation and beer said they can vouch that the Black Bear hasn’t lived up to its rowdy reputation for decades.
“We usually leave by 8,” Mary DeMoss, a Black Bear regular, said. “In the cooler weather they have trivia (contests).”
Mary and her husband Butch DeMoss estimated they have been customers of the Black Bear for 35 to 40 years and remember when an earlier version of the establishment was inside a railcar.
“I’m 77, and I’ve been coming here since I was old enough to drink,” Butch said.
“This wasn’t here. It was a train car over there,” Mary said, pointing toward the west. “It was called the Cotton Club, and it was wild back then.”
“Oh, it earned it,” Butch said about the old club’s reputation. “It was kind of rough when it was in the train car.”
The Black Bear’s current location started out as a bait shop that expanded over the years.
“They built a little place that was a bait shop, and this was the bait place they turned into this,” Butch said, referring to open room next to the bar.
These days, the Black Bear Bar and Grill is where longtime friends meet to visit and eat a home-cooked meal.
“The food is delicious,” customer Lindia Tutwiler said. “It’s all homemade.”
“Linda makes the biscuits, and I make the spaghetti sauce,” Messmore said of him and his wife. “We have a special every day. Spaghetti is every Thursday.”
Tacos on Tuesday, chili on Wednesday, stadium brats on Friday and pulled pork on Saturday round out the weekly specials, but the Black Bear also serves breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m. daily except Mondays when the business is closed, as well as a full menu of appetizers, pizza, hamburgers, and chicken and tenderloin sandwiches.
Messmore hopes people will come out to this weekend’s grand opening and see all the changes for themselves, including a spruced-up patio area and new outdoor bar cleverly named the “Bear Garden.”
Four state-of-the-art speakers have been installed in the open room next to the indoor bar to accommodate bands.
“When live entertainment comes in, they won’t have to bring sound equipment,” he said. “Also, we won’t play live music outside past midnight.”
The second floor is now the “Bear Cave” complete with a bear skin on the wall and “the nicest bar bathroom in the area,” according to Messmore.
“It will be VIP access this weekend, and after this, it will be available for rent,” he said.