GIBSON CITY — From its 20-foot bar made out of reclaimed fence panels to the high school football jersey hanging on one of its walls, the bar opening this weekend in downtown Gibson City is a tribute to the life of Jay Caviness.
Jay’s Place is opening Friday in the long-vacant building at 117 N. Sangamon Ave., with a grand opening planned for the following day — the eve of Mr. Caviness’ 37th birthday.
“It will be pretty bitter-sweet,” said Mr. Caviness’ sister, Kelly Steenbergen of Fisher, who owns and operates the bar with her husband, Sam.
Mr. Caviness died almost exactly a year earlier, just eight days after his 36th birthday. The 2001 graduate of Fisher High School — a former member of the Fisher football team and Fisher/GCMS co-op wrestling program — co-owned the Sammers II bar at 119 W. 8th St. in Gibson City with his sister prior to his untimely death.
Sammers II closed at the end of March after Kelly Steenbergen decided to make one of her brother’s wishes come true.
“Jay always wanted to get a bigger place,” she said. “So we found the building, my husband and I discussed it, and we did it.”
Months of renovations to the building ensued, with the Steenbergens receiving help from a number of family members and friends.
Among the renovations: A wall splitting the building down the middle was torn down to open up the space, and the original hardwood floors were exposed, sanded and oiled. Pieces of the original tin ceiling were also found, and they were painted in a pewter color and placed on the walls as accents. A galvanized steel ceiling was also installed.
A 20-foot bar was also built out of reclaimed fence wood, with black-iron pipe used for its foot rails.
“Jay loved the old barnwood look,” Kelly Steenbergen noted.
The bar’s decorations serve as a tribute to Mr. Caviness, as well. One wall is the “Live Like Jay” wall, where his old high school football jersey now hangs. The expectation is that the wall will also eventually be filled with photos of people wearing “Live Like Jay” T-shirts that were sold following Mr. Caviness’ death. With Mr. Caviness having had a love for traveling, people who bought the shirts are asked to wear them while posing for photos while on vacations, and those photos can then be brought to the bar to be hung on the wall.
Since Mr. Caviness was an avid Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Cardinals and Michigan Wolverines fan, there is sports memorabilia from his favorite teams located throughout the bar, as well.
Another wall is dedicated to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School athletics, featuring flags and other memorabilia. The Steenbergens have long been supporters of GCMS sports, sponsoring a golf outing annually to benefit the school’s athletic programs.
Two pool tables, along with “Internet-interactive” dartboards, are located in the bar’s back room, Kelly Steenbergen said. As early as October, there will also be five video-gambling machines, she said.
The bar serves appetizers and Butch’s Pizza, plus a variety of mixed drinks and beer. Eventually, Kelly Steenbergen said, she hopes to offer craft beer, including the “Live Like Jay” lager being released in October by JT Walker’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in Mahomet. Mr. Caviness was “very good friends” with JT Walker, Kelly Steenbergen said, and proceeds from the sale of the craft beer will go to the “Live Like Jay” scholarship fund benefitting the GCMS/Fisher co-op wrestling program.
The employees of Jay’s Place might be familiar to some patrons, as some of them worked at Sammers II. They include bartender Ella Herges, bartender Amanda Jordan, bartender and bar manager Kelsey Steenbergen and “guest bartender” Brock Deer, who was Mr. Caviness’ “very best friend,” according to Kelly Steenbergen.
This weekend, the bar will hold a soft opening from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and a grand opening from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday. Its regular hours will be from 11 a.m. to midnight on Mondays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
A large crowd is expected in downtown Gibson City this weekend — and hopefully at Jay’s Place, too, Kelly Steenbergen said — as Nashville recording artist Colt Ford is set to perform Saturday night on a stage set up by City Hall.
There will be $2 cans of domestic beer available for purchase during Saturday’s grand opening.