Taste Timeline . . .
1930s Drugstores seemed to grace almost every corner in the West Bluff neighborhood surrounding Bradley Polytechnic Institute. Best & Jordan, Bass’ Drug, and Gibben’s Pharmacy all had lunch counters. The favorite meeting spot for Marion Putnam Bohner ’38 and friends was Gibben’s, known to students as Gibbie’s. “We would slip into a booth between and after classes,” the Peoria native recalls.
A lack of money didn’t stop students from having a good time. While her friends usually sipped on a Coca-Cola, Bohner rarely ordered a beverage. “There was never a problem with us lingering and not buying more.” Pharmacist Paul Gibbens, nicknamed Gibbie, operated a business that catered to Bradley students. From his storefront at Bradley Avenue and University, the Purdue graduate sold textbooks, filled prescriptions, and supervised the busy soda fountain.
Hunt’s Drive-in was another place to see friends, according to Bohner. “When you went on a date, that was the ultimate,” she reminisces. Popular menu items in the ’30s were lime freezes, hamburgers, and ice cream cones.
Nearby, Kramer’s had been established in 1932. Students could choose from a vast sandwich menu. A lettuce and tomato sandwich (no bacon) and the grilled frankfurters were a fraction of the cost of a pricey triple-decker clubhouse sandwich. Sandwiches of sugar-cured ham were a specialty. “Ades” could be ordered in lemon, orange, or lime, plus there was a dizzying array of flavors for deluxe sodas and sundaes.
For “home-cooked” meals, The Tech Café on Main Street was popular among the college crowd. For years, the proprietress, Mrs. C.E. Johnson, offered student dinners, short orders, and special Sunday dinners.
1940s The late Robert Morgan ’34 led a group of Bradley alumni whose goal in 1939 was to give students something they had never had—a student union for campus. According to the Bradley Tech newspaper, the Wigwam was decorated “along the lines of a national park lodge with the Indian motif in keeping with Peoria’s tradition and the Bradley Braves.” Its soda fountain, the Tepee, quickly caught on as a favorite meeting place for students. The Wigwam also featured a lounge with a Victrola phonograph, radio, and ping pong.
Converted to barracks for soldiers during World War II, the “Wig” was moved to the basement of the horology building, Westlake Hall. Students called their new hangout the “foxhole.”
Coinciding with the University’s 50th anniversary in 1947, the Wigwam was moved back to its former quarters, this time with more space upstairs for the popular Tepee. With a malt-shop atmosphere, students and soldiers could meet for a soft drink or a malt, burgers, or to sample Sealtest ice cream’s flavor of the month. A jukebox and smooth floor set the stage for dancing. Heartier meals were served downstairs in the cafeteria, decorated with chandeliers made from old wagon wheels.
Off campus, students continued to frequent Hunt’s and Kramer’s. Inside seating was added to Kramer’s after World War II. Kane Drug at Main and University was another popular spot for meeting and eating.
At the Drive-In
You needed a car, or a roommate with a car, but decades of Bradley students didn’t have far to go to enjoy a delicious treat or meal at the drive-in. Everybody knew how to get to Hunt’s—just down the Farmington Road hill, next to Bradley Park. A popular date spot or place to hang out after a basketball game, Hunt’s was known for huge tenderloins. The restaurant had its own meat room where fresh tenderloins were cut daily. Sauces were homemade. Other Hunt’s specialties were strawberry pie, thick shakes, fried chicken and shrimp, and Mr. Big burgers. On Friday nights, customers lined up for homemade clam chowder. The Peoria landmark closed earlier this year.
Kramer’s was even closer to campus, just blocks away on Western at Moss Avenue. Like Hunt’s, Kramer’s opened in the ’30s. Complementing a complete menu of tasty sandwiches were dozens of “refreshing” choices from the fountain. Phosphates were a favorite—for a dime you could choose between seven flavors. Lime was popular, but so was green river. In 1959, a new owner came along. His name was to become a familiar one in Peoria. James Jumer dropped the drive-in portion of the business six years later, embarking on a massive remodeling project at the same time. He retained the Kramer’s name for more than a decade, but then renamed the operation Jumer’s Castle Lodge.
Another restaurant with curb service originated just 40 miles east of Peoria. The first Steak ‘n Shake opened in Normal in 1934. Known for its steakburgers and hand-dipped shakes, the chain has maintained several Peoria restaurants for years. The Main Street location was within walking distance, but Bradley students were more likely to arrive there by the carload. Across the street was another hamburger stand, Mr. Quick. To satisfy their craving for Steak n’ Shake, today’s students have a short drive up University Street.
Just a block from there is a familiar franchise that in 1959 was a little-known drive-in with a gravel parking lot. In fact, franchising agent Ray Kroc had scouted the Peoria area looking for just the right site for an addition to the new chain. McDonald’s workforce was all-male at the time. The food was advertised as a “pleasure every student can afford.” For 25 cents, you could enjoy an all-beef hamburger and fries.