Al's Place: Ghosts, Abe Lincoln and One Very Secret Sauce

Talking to Al Pizzato, owner of Al's Place about the history and the food in the oldest brick building in Mokena.

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.

Donald Smith September 19, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Since it was built in 1873 and Lincoln died in 1865 I don't think he sleeped there.
zibble dubering September 19, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Many of time I have drank way too much and puked the spirits out of my little tummy-tum as i walked back to my home from al's place (I do not drink and drive). That bar is a lovely place to relax in. Thanks for helping my sirossis out. Your the best. See ya. (i got to make me another drink)
Matt Galik September 19, 2012 at 05:11 PM
As the author of the book Images of America: Mokena, I must say that this wonderful article does justice to one of our most important local landmarks. There's more history here than one could shake a stick at. As Donald pointed out, it's impossible that Lincoln could have been here, as the structure dates from a period after his death. I've always been curious about the ghost stories associated with the place, could anyone share any more tidbits?
Elizabeth Butorac September 22, 2012 at 09:07 PM
There is a framed article behind the bar that states the bar was built pre-civil war (1852). This still does not mean that Abraham Lincoln slept there, however, it is possible. Before Lincoln became president he was lobbyist for the railroads and represented Illinois Central which would mean he spent quite a bit of time in Illinois. Not to mention lived in Illinois as a child; it is likely he passed through Mokena. One of Al's patrons testifies that before Al even owned the place, around 1982, he saw a ghost walk from where the closet is on the east side of the bar to the west side where a window is. He also claims that over the years, at times when no-one has been in the bar he has heard stomping and walking over the same path while in the basement. He claims that the figure is a cloudy and perhaps a confederate soldier.


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