Using the light of Spring’s first full moon, tonight I make my pilgrimage to Johnny Vig’s, which bills itself as an uptown lounge located at the Metro Centre. Bartenders, cops and emergency rooms can testify to the occasional bizarre effects from a full moon evening. As a bartender myself, I can attest to the lunar lunacy of the evening. But my intrepid photographer Rob Stejskal and I are willing to brave the risk and catch a bit of full moon fever at Johnny Vig’s. So it’s onward and inwards as we travel into the heart of Johnny Vig’s.
“Vig’s” as the regulars call it, is a melting pot of blue collar and white collar, young and old clientele alike. It’s a relaxed neighborhood watering hole for North Peoria.
This is Ray Wozniak, the owner of Vig’s. He bought the place a few years back. Ray also owns an electrical company and is doing a ton of work on the Pierre Hotel renovation. Here Ray is telling me about a golf shot last summer that came within an inch of a hole-in-one on a 286 yard par four at Coyote Creek course.
Our hostess and bartender for the evening is Candace, a lovely lady that gives a warm welcome to all and converts strangers into friends and instant regulars at Johnny Vig’s.. Here she strikess her Marilyn pose. Candace is also the social media marketer for the bar. Via the Vig’s Facebook page she sends out alerts of drink specials as well as when the occasional band plays. The notices find their way to over one thousand smartphones and in-boxes on a nightly basis.
Candace is joined by fellow bartenders, Libby (Ray’s better half) and Bridget. Not pictured here is Barb, a legendary Peoria bartender who only needs one name like Cher and Madonna. Barb’s son’s band, “Rachel’s Hippo” plays at Vig’s about once a month. It’s an energizing band that’s not to loud but does get the ladies dancing and the guys jumping for joy. You can also actually carry on a conversation when they play.
There is a nice overall selection of bottled beers, no tap beer. Every month there is a two dollar beer of the month special on fine brews such as Fat Tire, Pilsner Urquell, Red Stripe and domestics too. They have solid brand name wines like Chateau Ste Michelle and Clois du Bois that you usually don’t see in a bar. There are also a couple drink specials every night of the week.
If you’re having a problem walking because you’ve had a little too much or if you’re embarrassed to play your favorite song- no problem—you can play their jukebox from your bar stool with a clever phone app called Mytouchtones. Oh Mymy!
That’s Rob, myself and Libby. It’s time to do some market research and taste test some of Vig’s popular concoctions. Full Moon Fever has officially reared its booze-riddled head!
Three Olives Vodka just released a “Marilyn Monroe Strawberry Vodka” which is featured in Vig’s Marilyn Martini, which is Marilyn Vodka with a splash of cranberry juice for a pink color and a touch of cream that smooths it out. I don’t go for fufu drinks but this was rather tasty and strong. A good sweet and sultry Martini that would make Marilyn proud and geared towards the gals. In the bottle you can see Marilyn herself, she’s a little fuzzy but I swear she came to life the more I drank. Candace just seems the perfect bartender to make this martini.
A slight variation of the Marilyn Martini more in a cocktail form is Marilyn Vodka paired up with the ever popular Rum Chatta cream liqueur. It’s smoother, lighter and less potent than the Martini. The Marilyn Vodka has been a big hit at Vig’s, mostly with the ladies. Hey ladies!
I had to try the house drink named "Vig's Fig" made with Malibu Coconut Rum with cranberry and pineapple juice. Refreshing though I am not a rum guy.
Now we are getting into my kind of territory. Tequila!! Just in time with Cinco de Mayo just around the corner. The best Margarita is made with Petron, but the real secret is to use Grand Marnier instead of triple sec. You also need to squeeze a couple lime wedges into it.
Libby is certainly all smiles with the Margarita. Viva la Margarita!
Rob and I crank it up another notch with black licorice Romana Sambuca. The traditional way to serve it is in a snifter with three coffee beans for good luck in your health, wealth and love life. We don’t have the time nor do we believe in luck. We hae it straight out of shot glasses. Vig’s is the number one bar in Peoria in Sambucca sales. They go thru 5 bottles a week. There are some serious sailors in this joint.
We save the best for last. Lucid Absinthe: Warning! Not for the meek or faint of heart. Look at the bottle—you can see the eyes starring at you from the dark, as if it’s daring you. The most mysterious and myth laden booze of all. Banned for nearly 100 years until recently. Originally created by a Swiss doctor as the “miracle cure-all.” It was made fashionable as a drink in the 1800's by the bourgeoisie and bohemians such as Hemingway and Van Gogh (that’s right—one guy killed himself and the other cut his own ear off, hence the waring). Banned after a Frenchman went on a hallucinating binge and murdered his pregnant wife and two daughters.
Dare we combine the mystical Absinthe with the peril of the full moon looming overhead? Absolutely!
The preparation ritual is like a religious ceremony. You use an Absinthe spoon (which has holes in it), place it over a rocks glass, put a sugar cube on the spoon, pour the Absinthe over the cube which drains into the rocks glass, then light the sugar cube on fire, after a few seconds pour a shot of water on the cube to douse the flame, then stir the drink to dissolve the cube. I kept getting visions of the scene in the movie “Troy” the one where they burn the Trojan warrior Hector at his funeral.
It’s bottom’s up, then pray.
Ray congratulates Rob and I on our bravery though I feel I’m slipping into fear and loathing territory. I bid adieu to Candace, Ray and Vig’s and head out to the full moon. Cheers!