A wall-mounted phone with a cord, a pull-out cigarette machine and a poster from Serpico: Have you ever wanted to travel back in time? Open the door to Al's Place in Mokena, you'll find yourself in the early 1970's. The building—the oldest brick structure in Mokena—has been around a long time. Historians can trace the building back to 1875, when it was a saloon run by Johann Schiek.
Nowadays, Al Pizzato owns the place. He bought it 27 years ago.
"My father was in a bar and restaurant business at 111th & Langley, he owned Barney's Club," Pizzato said. "This is what I've done all my life. I started tending bar when I was a kid."
As Pizzato continues to pour beer, patrons enter and settle down on the stools. Al knows everyone who walks in the door, and if he doesn't, he learns their name the minute they have a seat.
Pizzato and his wife Mary never had children but they have several "adopted" Al's Place kids. A few of the patrons call him dad, some grandpa. Suckers are behind the bar for the kids who stop in for a Coke. Beth, one of his favorite kids, has worked for Al on and off for years. The bubbly 27-year-pld works nights, cooking and helping Al.
Wednesdays are pasta nights. As she cooked, Beth reminisced about Al.
"We had a friend that worked in the kitchen here, my mom wanted his recipe for his spaghetti sauce. She would ask him all the time—well Al would never give it to her. It is top secret," she said.
"Well, my mom had the girl that worked here (was our friend) spy on Al when he made his sauce. She wrote down the ingredients that she saw Al put in. My mom made the sauce, it was close but it was NOT Al's sauce. Every time she sees him now she tells him she's got his recipe."
Every Wednesday is "Spaghetti Day" at Al's, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then they close and reopen at 6 p.m. to serve more pasta. Pizzato explains his tradition.
"The homemade spaghetti sauce with Italian sausage, people say it's the best in the area," he said. "This is not a tablecloth place but the sauce is the best you'll ever have. I make specials everyday from Chicago dog to meatloaf. Our hamburgers are handmade, not frozen. You get a big portion for the price."
Helen and Walter Hartung are longtime friends and customers of Pizzato.
"We've known Al for over 40 years," said Helen. "...1969, that's when we moved into Meyers Flossmoor Bakery. Al had a barbershop two doors down on Sterling Avenue. He's a great guy and a wonderful friend."
Al takes time out of his shift to visit with friends and customers.
"I have people come from all over," he said. "I grew up in Roseland, my friends from high school come out the first Friday of every month. It's a nice feeling to see these people. Then I have made some good friends in Mokena."
While the food has been popular with the locals, so have the urban legends. Ask some of the regulars and they'll tell you Abe Lincoln spent a night in the place.
("The rumor was here before I got here," Pizzato said.)
A few others have reported spotting ghosts in the basement while bringing up cases of beer for Al. One guy gave a detailed account of a ghost dressed in civil war clothing.
But no matter what you see before or after drinking a few beers at Al's, loyal customers say it's worth a Wednesday night stop to try the pasta.