When the Grein Building on Second Street was to be torn down to create parking spaces for a Downtown redevelopment plan in 1972, one of the building’s tenants, the Peephole Bar & Grill, moved to the corner of Main and Second streets. There, the watering hole replaced H. A. Woods Drug Store, which had been at that location for 56 years. In August, when Steve Alsop, Larry “Bubbles” Pollack, and Dan DiLegge reopened the Peephole after a few months of renovation, Evansvillians had been seeking relief for their malaise — from doctors’ prescriptions to bartenders’ cold beverages — for 92 years at the Downtown corner. This is a milestone: For nearly a century, that intersection has survived decades of an ever-changing Downtown landscape. The space is a refuge for Downtown dwellers needing the late night drink and for the business community wanting an after-work escape. The question lingers if the building renovations and menu changes from the new ownership can continue the legacy of the Peephole.
The legacy seems safe, as some patrons aren’t convinced the Peephole is different. “One customer told me,” DiLegge says, “‘I really like what you’ve done, but you didn’t change it.’” Without displacing or upsetting the Peephole’s unpretentious atmosphere, the new owners simply updated the décor.
The black canopy — the remains of a 1970s Downtown redevelopment plan — still protrudes from the façade. The owners fixed the broken Peephole sign, which hung beneath the awning facing Second Street, so passersby can now read the bar’s full name on the sign’s lowercased “peephole bar & grill.” Past the sign and into the bar, an assortment of liquors decorates a new cherry back bar. Two draft beers (Amber Bock and Pabst Blue Ribbon) are now a part of the expanded, but not puffed-up, beer menu; nearly 20 domestic and imported bottle beers are available.
In the back corner, the kitchen is a simple idea: “We wanted bar food,” DiLegge says, so the menu is sparse: tenderloins, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, onion rings, fries, and the splitter, a fried hot dog squeezed tightly in its bun.
Wooden wall panels were ripped down to expose the brick, the white ceiling tiles were replaced with new black tiles, and the front window display shelves (the remnants of Woods Drug Store) were dismantled to create a new seating section. Once cluttered with paper signs, beer posters, security bars, and film from cigarette smoke, the front window is now clear. The old pieces of the Peephole filled two large dumpsters when renovations finished.
DiLegge — the longtime owner of DiLegge’s, an Italian restaurant on North Main Street — downplays the renovation efforts to make a bar successful. After all, he says, he and Pollack, owner of The Pub on the East Side, have 60 years of total restaurant experience. “The restaurant business is a tough business, but our experience helps,” DiLegge says. They share lessons they’ve learned with their co-owner Alsop, who oversees the daily operations six days a week.
The patrons have returned, and DiLegge looks toward the future, hoping to open on Sundays for the remaining NFL season so that football fans can watch the games on the Peephole’s two 47-inch TVs. The Sunday openings will happen, DiLegge promises, as soon as they can add two more staff members to their 10-person team. “Steve works six days a week,” he says. “He needs a day off sometime.” But, when the Peephole opens Sundays, the consummate corner bar never will have a day off.