When I first started Road Tips over five years ago, I still hadn't figured out the concept or the format of the blog. Most of my early entries were of unique and favorite places of mine where I hardly did any research on the place, nor was it necessarily a place that I had recently visited. Over the past year, I did finally get a camera phone that allowed me to take pictures of places I visited rather than having a large camera to haul around. One of the first places I wrote about was Mulgrew's in East Dubuque, IL. I decided after a recent visit to Mulgrew's that I needed to do an entry that gave Road Tips readers a little more of an in-depth look at the place.
East Dubuque was once a hot bed of vice and sin starting back in the days of Prohibition. Actually, until very recently, East Dubuque was notorious for the number of strip clubs and late night bars that stood up and down Sinsinawa Street - a.k.a. "Sin Street". For years and years, bachelor parties, frat boys and thrill seekers visited the likes of Schnee's, Isabella Queen, The Cave, The Arena and The Coliseum, all of which featured girls dancing in the nude. After the guys had their fun at the strip clubs, they'd end up the evening polishing off foot-long chili dogs at Mulgrew's right up to 5 a.m.
A few years ago, city leaders pushed up the closing time for bars to 3:30 a.m. Then three years ago, the city banned all adult entertainment clubs in East Dubuque and pushed up closing time at the bars to 3 a.m. In a couple of years, bars in East Dubuque will have to close at 2 a.m. - the same time as the taverns across the river in Iowa and up the road in Wisconsin. The early morning closing times meant booming business for the strip clubs and bars in East Dubuque. Now that the strip clubs have been closed and the bars are beginning to close early, a number of the bar owners in East Dubuque are beginning to feel like the salad days are over.
One of those bar owners, Dalene (Toots) Temperley is the owner of Mulgrew's Tavern and Liquor Store on Sinsinawa Street. She is the fourth generation of the Mulgrew family to run the business which was opened as a grocery store in 1921 by her great-grandfather William "Old Bill" Mulgrew. When Prohibition ended in 1933, "Old Bill" and his son, Bill, Jr., brought in the first legal liquor to be sold in East Dubuque. The Mulgrew's added a bar and grill that sold packaged liquor on the north side of their grocery store soon after.
Mulgrew's Bar and Grill was sort of a fancy place for a number of years - the bartenders wore jackets, waitresses wore matching outfits. I understand it was one of the finer places to dine in the Dubuque area for a number of years.
Bill Mulgrew, Jr. passed the bar and liquor store onto his son, Dallas, who ran it up to his death in 2004. During that time, Mulgrew's became sort of famous for their foot-long chili dogs - a late night staple for those who had partied well into the night at one of the strip clubs in East Dubuque, or those who had come across the bridge from Dubuque when the bars in Iowa closed down. I was told on a "good" evening, Mulgrew's would sell 250 to 300 chili dogs - most of those served after 1 a.m.
I was coming home from Madison and decided to stop in for a chili dog and a cold beer early one afternoon recently. There were days when parking was tough find up and down Sinsinawa Street in front of Mulgrew's (see map), but this day there was plenty of parking along the street.
Mulgrew's hasn't changed much from the first time I visited the place nearly 25 years ago when I was brought to have my first chili dog after a training meeting I had with the guys from the old Audio Room store in Dubuque. These guys couldn't quit talking about how good these chili dogs were. We ended up at Mulgrew's around 9:30 at night and the four of us had "snow dogs" - Mulgrew's foot-long chili dogs loaded with onions on top. One of the guys, I'll never forget him - Jim Sullivan - had FIVE that night! Jim was not a small guy and I was a lot smaller at that time than I am now, but I was able to do three that evening. I about died on the spot. But they were so good - the chili doesn't have any beans in it and it's not very spicy. The hot dogs are steamed and placed in warm water to keep them warm until serving. Mulgrew's also features a spicy homemade mustard that you can put on top. But I just like a few onions (not quite as many as a "snow dog") and yellow mustard on mine.
The menu at Mulgrew's is pretty basic compared to what they used to serve years ago. While the chili dogs are the draw, they also feature burgers, soups, sandwiches and fried chicken. The menu at Mulgrew's is hung on the wall by the booths opposite the bar.
I took a seat at the bar and there was only one other guy in the place down the way from me. Dalene Temperley was talking with the patron about how the city of East Dubuque was imposing more restrictions on business for the tavern owners. I heard her say, "It's not the same East Dubuque that I remember."
The bartender came down and I had a very simple order for her - a chili dog with onions and a cold Old Style. They used to sell Old Style on tap and they'd serve it in a mug that they'd pull out of the freezer. The frosty schooner of beer was one of the highlights of the meal. Today, Mulgrew's just serves Old Style in bottles. Although, I may have been able to order up a frosty mug, but I didn't ask. It didn't matter.
She made up the chili dog in front of me. The buns are always fresh, the hot dogs have a nice flavor to them and the chili is, well... I used to joke - and guess I still do - that if I found out that urine was the secret ingredient in Mulgrew's chili, I'd still eat their chili dogs. There's just something about the combination of the chili, hot dog, bun, onions and mustard that makes a Mulgrew's foot-long chili dog outstanding. Just like the decor at Mulgrew's, the chili dog hasn't changed since my first one that fateful evening in 1986.
I made small talk with the bartender after I finished my chili dog and I said, "So, things have changed around East Dubuque, huh?"
She said, "Yep, the city is tryin' to drive us all out of business. They say that East Dubuque isn't family friendly enough."
I asked if they're still busy after 1 a.m. and she said that they were, but not as much as they used to be. Once the strip clubs closed and we had to start closin' earlier, we began to see our overall business dip. We used to be packed for lunches. I think we've served about a dozen people today so far."
He said, "I know. It's been too long for me to go without a chili dog."
Mulgrew's isn't fancy and, quite frankly, I've never had anything other than a chili dog during my many visits over the years. But the chili dogs are king at Mulgrew's and other than the cold beer, there's not much more of a draw at the place. And that doesn't make it bad, it is what it is. I'm just hoping that Mulgrew's survives so that Dalene Temperley can pass the business on to her daughter some day.