Stranger in a Strange Land: The Traveler's Guide to Central Avenue, Part I

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Traveler's Guide to Central Avenue, Part I

Everywhere you turn it’s “Main Street this, Main Street that.” A new restaurant opens on Lower Main…A funky coffee shop debuts on Upper Main…Yet another festival scheduled for Main Street. Main, Main, Main. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about enough. Is there not another happening street in Dubuque?

As a matter of fact, there is. Although not as glamorous or la-de-da as its media-greedy competitor, Dubuque’s other main drag can’t be ignored. That’s right, I’m talking about the one-and-only, legend-in-its-own-mind, Central Avenue. Stretching from one end of the city to the other, Central Avenue is Dubuque’s Avenue Des Champs Elysees. To give Central the credit it deserves, over the next several weeks I will be taking you on a stroll, if not a crawl, down this Avenue of Surprises. This is your very own Traveler’s Guide to Central Avenue- just clip along the edges, stuff into your back pocket, and away you go. Even better, take it with you on the second annual Central Run Pub Crawl, scheduled for April 14th, to make sure you see all the sights and sounds of this historic street.

Like any good Dubuque Catholic, your journey begins at Holy Ghost Catholic Church, located on the far north end of Central. After a few prayers to wipe away your Catholic Guilt, head down a block to the A & B Tap. The Anderson and Brandt Tap is housed in a smoke-worn tavern that has been pouring frothy draws for over seventy-five years. The bar’s latest proprietor, Valerie Portis, claims to have the “Best bartenders in town” and patrons are “guaranteed a laugh”. Opening at 11 a.m., the A & B also serves food such as frozen pizzas, “sometimes,” adds Portis. Whether there’s a pizza in the oven or not, the beer is always cold, the crowd is always friendly and the karaoke happens every Wednesday night and on alternating Friday and Saturdays. Be sure to swing by during the Pub Crawl as the A & B will be playing host to a Hawaiian motif and, according to Portis, “Every customer is guaranteed to get laid”. Cost of a can of Old Milwaukee: $2.00 (dusting off not included).

Although there really is at least one bar every quarter of mile on Central, there is a non-alcoholic side of the street. No, I’m not talking about pawnshops (at least not yet). I’m talking about the plethora of unique, Mom and Pop shops that give the street character. Take for example, Waukegan Color Supply, which has been selling electronics and fixing computers for over six years. Why Central? Simple, “There’s good traffic and good rent,” says the store’s owner. These are the things a small operation needs to be able to compete with the big-named, West End competitors. That and “a personality that treats customers like people, and even friends.”

Of course the low rents come with a price, namely Central’s reputation for being crime and drug-ridden. Bill, of Tri-State Auto Sales, recognizes the drug problem and the effect this image has on business. He points out that much of this can be related to the surrounding neighborhoods’ plethora of low-income housing. “But it’s really the property owner’s fault,” Bill says. “They buy up these places cheap and don’t put any time or effort into maintenance or aesthetics. That’s part of what gives the area its negative image.”

Despite these shortcomings, business goes on. Fagan’s Shoe Repair and Hobbies has been doing business here for 27 years. With shelves stacked floor to ceiling with toy trains and model cars, replica airplanes soaring from the ceiling and enough puzzles to keep you busy for winters to come, Fagan’s is like a return to the days when fun was found beyond a video screen. “Kid’s need to explore the hobbies their parents and grandparents enjoyed,” says owner Aaron Fagan. “These toys are a way to not only broaden one’s imagination, but also a way to connect with a piece of our history, the history of our childhood.”

Just down the street is another unique small business, Unique Boutique, a floral shop specializing in flowers of all kinds, along with yard decorations and Isabel Bloom statuettes. Visitors will enjoy exploring the sun-filled rooms that are permeated by the sweet scent of never-ending spring. Be sure to take a look upstairs where Christmas last all-year round through crisp blue walls, frosted décor and an abundance of snow babies, Santas and ice-glazed villages. Next door is TNT Jewelry and Gallery, which has been selling wedding invitations, sports items, figurines, special occasion gifts, jewelry and art prints for eleven years. Owner Linda Ginter prefers Central Avenue because of its ideal location. “We’re on a busy intersection, we’re centrally located and the retail business is growing everyday. What more could you want?”

All this shopping making you thirsty? You’re in luck as Knicker’s is right across the street. This saw-dusty, all-wood biker bar is the perfect place to rest your legs any time of the day (it opens at 7 a.m. daily). You can play pool and darts, watch sports or the news, enjoy a classic Fire Burger, or strike up a conversation with a bad-ass biker decked out in leather and busy closing a business deal on his leather-wrapped cell-phone. Price of a PBR: $2.25.

Join us next time as our Central adventure continues...


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