Revamped Illini Inn carries on past traditions


Ben Tschetter

Illini Inn, which first opened its doors in the 1960s, reopened Aug. 22. People who are 21 or older can join the Mug Club, one of Illini Inn’s long-standing traditions, which currently has 95,491 members. Illini Inn will also continue to serve ready-made pizzas from midnight until 2 a.m.

By Emma Palatnik, Staff Writer

Illini Inn has traditions dating back to its opening in the 1960s. Even with a fresh start, it is upholding many of its past traditions.

Located at 901 S. Fourth St., Illini Inn reopened in its new building on Aug. 22. It now serves lunch starting at 11 a.m., something the old Inn didn’t previously offer.

One continuing tradition stands out among others.

Josiah Peterson, Illini Inn manager, said even with the new building, it’s still the Inn at heart.

The mug club started in the 1970s and has continued ever since.

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To join, bar patrons have to chug their first beer. They then ring the bell and sign the Mug Club book. To get their membership card back at the end of the night, patrons have to recite their membership number and return the mug.

“It’s also fun when people become new members (of the Mug Club),” said Kaylee Elliott, Illini Inn employee. “A lot of people will be like, ‘1234,’ going off like they’re nervous about it.”

Bar-goers 21 and older can join the Mug Club. It costs $6 and includes two beers.  

“I think we’re up to 95,106 members now. Which means in the past eight days, we’ve had 700 people join,” Peterson said.

Since the time of the interview, more people have joined. Approximately 95,491 people are in the Mug Club as of Sunday.

The Inn’s menu offers a variety of bar-style foods like nachos, onion rings, cheese fries, chicken wings, buffalo chicken salad, grilled cheese, chicken strips and sandwiches.

Before, pizza was served upstairs, above the old building. Now, made-to-order pizza is on the menu. There are suggested options like the bacon cheeseburger or the Sante Fe pizza. Create-your-own pizzas are also available.

After midnight, the Inn sells ready-made 7-inch pizzas until 2 a.m. Peterson said people can stop by and get their pizza in two minutes.

During the day, the Illini Inn is family-friendly.

The Inn attracts a good mix of people, Elliott said. Students, families and older people frequent the bar.

Alayna Jackson, Illini Inn employee and nursing student at Parkland College, said a lot of the old clientele have come back.

“It’s really awesome when you see people walk in,” Jackson said. “They’re like, ‘This was over here and this is where the coat rack used to be,’ and stuff.”

Unlike some bars, Illini Inn doesn’t charge cover. For drinks, it’s $3 for a domestic beer and $4 for a craft beer. Wells are $3. Jackson said they have different deals throughout the week. Last Thursday, they had $1 tequila shots, $2 Tall Boys and $3 Tito’s.

Right now, Peterson said the Inn resembles a sports bar.

Jackson said she thinks the bar will be similar to Murphy’s Pub or Legends. She said it will have a ‘chiller’ vibe. But the weekends may be a different story, depending on who comes into the bar.

Afif Awad, senior in Engineering, went to Illini Inn twice in one day. He first went with his friends after Quad Day.

“What I used to hear about the old Illini Inn was it was almost like KAM’s and small, like sticky floors. But this was completely different,” Awad said. “The whole place was renovated; I really liked the decor. I really think it’s going to become like a sports bar, where they have a lot of TVs. They had an underground bar as well.”

Awad met a former Illini baseball player who was on campus dropping off his daughter.

“He was telling us stories about him and his other teammates, football players, all used to come to this Illini Inn bar,” Awad said. “(It was) just really nice listening to it and how this bar’s been here on campus for so many years. He still had the Illini Inn Mug Club card from back in the 1980s.”

The former Illini baseball player told Awad a story about a big win back in the ’80s. The team reserved the entire bar to celebrate.

Awad said the stories he hears about the Inn are what’s going to keep him coming back. After graduating, he plans to visit during Homecoming. This year, his fraternity wants to reserve the second floor of the Illini Inn on Homecoming Weekend for its alumni.

He also said the Illini Inn is a place students will want to bring their parents to during Moms or Dads Weekend.

“I’d definitely bring (my parents) here because it is not crazy like Lion,” Awad said. “It’s a nice place; it’s brand new, so the furniture is great. It’s not run-down; (there are) no sticky floors.”

Awad said it could be especially fun to bring parents who are also alumni to the Inn. During his second trip to the Inn, Awad’s roommate told him about how his parents went to Illini Inn when they were in college.

Illini Inn is open from 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m.-midnight on Sundays.

“We’re new and clean. I would say we’re a little quainter than a lot of the other places, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like to have fun,” Peterson said.

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