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Cat prowls through 67 years of serving

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by Kris Ann Hegle

SBJ Contributing Writer

Friendships have been forged here. Couples have met and fallen in love (and sorrows drowned if that love turned out to be less than eternal). Business deals have been struck. And more than a few libations have been drunk in celebration of good times.

The Cat & the Fiddle has been a Springfield landmark since the business opened in 1932. Back then, The Cat & the Fiddle was a fine-dining restaurant one of the most elite places to take a date. Chicken and mouth-watering steaks were on the menu, along with cocktails and beer.

By 1962, however, The Cat & the Fiddle had evolved from a restaurant to a cocktail lounge. It also had moved from its original location at the intersection of Sunshine and Glenstone to the Plaza Shopping Center a few hundred yards away. In 1977, it stopped serving food altogether, and different bands began to play at the bar.

Despite these changes and its four different owners through the years, The Cat & the Fiddle has continued to attract a regular clientele, according to Jerry Frankum, who has worked as a bartender there for the past 16 years. "The Cat," as Frankum calls it, is a Springfield version of Cheers.

By day the regulars are retirees and business people who have knocked off work a little early and are ready to kick back and relax. At night, a younger college crowd moves in and keeps things rocking until last call. All of them have left their mark on the place.

Literally, at times.

Some of the original customers carved their initials into the bar to designate the spots they usually occupied. Now a new generation of customers is keeping the tradition alive, and fresh carvings can be found on the bar's surface.

A collection of hats donated by customers borders the room. Occasionally, a customer will help himself to a hat, but a new one always appears soon. The best hats, including the coveted Lynyrd Skynyrd hat that dates to 1973, hang behind the bar just out of swiping range.

Other customers have added more personal touches. Patron Omer Marsh hand carved the large wooden clock that sits behind the bar.

Just beyond the clock hangs a large mounted trout. Bartender Angel Rice refers to it as "the $100,000 fish." Owner Bud Tucker caught the trout, according to Rice, a feat that inspired him to buy a houseboat, a fishing boat, thousands of dollars worth of fishing equipment and a house by the lake. Legend has it that Tucker hasn't caught a fish since.

Over the years, The Cat & the Fiddle has encountered the usual problems faced by cocktail lounges new computer technology that makes fake IDs harder to detect, the occasional rowdy customer and increased competition. Despite all of this, The Cat & the Fiddle has continued to attract a regular clientele.

According to Tucker, The Cat & the Fiddle is more than just a place to go grab a beer or get a cocktail. It's a place to meet your friends.

That feeling of community extends beyond the bar's walls as well. Twice a year, The business hosts parties to raise money for The Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants the wishes of children who have life-threatening illnesses.

Many of the "older cats," who have frequented The Cat & the Fiddle through the years, are proud that donating to The Make-A-Wish Foundation is becoming one of the bar's new traditions.

Some things, however, never seem to change.

From the cat-head shaped bar to the red velvet pool table in back to the sign that has towered over the building since 1952, The Cat & the Fiddle exudes a welcoming familiarity. [[In-content Ad]]

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