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Opinion: Best places for a book and a beer in SGF

Eyes & Ears

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Reading and drinking aren’t as antithetical as it might sound.

Throughout history, taverns have drawn intellectual and literary minds, from William Shakespeare to C.S. Lewis and, more recently, journalists and politicians (see Off the Record in Washington, D.C., and the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago).  

This month, I set out to find the best bars to pair with literature in Springfield.

It’s easy to find a watering hole with good food, sports, music or company. But that quiet place for just you and the pages – oh, and your favorite reading beverage – takes careful consideration. Here are some things to look for: chill service, low volume, quiet corners, minimal distractions like giant TVs and absolutely no flies – they’ll obviously ruin the experience.

In a week’s time, I journeyed to the corners of the city for just the right spots. Here’s what I found.

South side: Uncle Bentlys, 4123 S. National Ave.

On a Monday afternoon, I found a quiet corner near a window, the only one in the place. (The bartender says they pull up the blinds specifically for that table.)

From where I sit, the TV volume is contained. There are small, spotty gatherings with quiet conversations. Yes, I’m on to chapter two.

A fly did pay a visit. Fortunately, he wasn’t pesky.

Upsides: It’s just the right amount of service to down a few chapters in between drinks. And middle-aged men are generally quiet creatures – at least, on this afternoon.

The bartender says Bentlys holds some meetings, but it’s rare to see someone one-on-one with a book. Warning: There are pool tables and a shuffleboard.

Uncle Bentlys lived up to its name – doesn’t it just sound like a place you could enjoy a good read?

North side: Lindberg’s Tavern, 318 W. Commercial St.

I recommend window seats for reading. The lighting is tough to beat.

Lindberg’s has a beautiful storefront and vintage plush chairs nestled against it. It’s a readymade reading nook, next to the worn piano and the old Lindberg’s sign – as long as it’s not too crowded yet. Late afternoons are good to get in and mow down some pages before music starts here.

I noticed the bartender respectfully turn down the volume a notch or two after he knew I was here to read. I hear educators talking shop at a nearby table.

Lindberg’s claims to be the oldest tavern in Springfield, so I’d recommend grabbing your oldest literature before settling in. I felt out of place reading from my iPad on this stop. Reading productivity was down for me.

It’s straight up here, iconic Springfield and all about the music, with images of Bob Dylan and Elvis overlooking patrons.

Dang it, another fly.

Downtown: The Golden Girl Rum Club, 137 Park Central Square, and Scotch & Soda, 310 South Ave.

A key consideration in this pursuit is a simple but critical one: the chair. It should be considered the third element to this beer and book thing. And so closely related is comfort.

The Golden Girl Rum Club has it all – beer for the working man to decorated cocktails, a quaint spot on the square and outdoor seating. I could not find a good reading chair but the one already occupied. Making due with stools at the bar inside and on the corner of the square, I muscled through a chapter surrounded by college students.

This rum bar is for high-energy movers and shakers, and I had to move on in my quest for more comfort.

So I walked down to Scotch & Soda. This was it. Beyond the bar, a semiprivate lounge provides plentiful comfortable seating – leather couches, wingback chairs and small, lamp-lit tables.

Outside, college students crammed into the piano bar next door, but inside Scotch & Soda, it’s just you, the book, the beverage and light piano overhead. It is dimly lit, so if reading print, you’ll have to settle in near a lamp. The e-readers will suit you just fine, though.

I could read here all night.

East side: Cherry Picker Package and Fare, 601 S. Pickwick Ave.

I hate to jump on a bandwagon. But some have said Cherry Picker is made for this. And it’s fitting.

Outside, picnic bench seating under a wooden pergola mixed with a 75-degree breeze works in Cherry Picker’s favor. It’s nice if you can get it, and I did on this August afternoon.

Low-key, coffeehouse-style music enhances the read. The staff and most people around will leave you alone. Must be part of the independent fabric of the Rountree neighborhood. Everybody’s chill – or at least they want you to believe they are. Go with it.

It’s not a lounging atmosphere, but it’s peaceful and great for a 30-minute stop with your favorite literature. Very dog friendly, if you want a reading companion.

At the corner of Cherry Street and Pickwick Avenue, traffic pulls through but not to the point of distraction. Don’t worry, the flies aren’t domesticated here, and they politely move on.

In the end, it’s hard to beat Scotch & Soda. It had all the key factors for reading with libations in hand.

Give it a shot – and others – and tell me about your favorites.

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Director Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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