When a patron enters Laura’s East End Tap in Oglesby they know what to expect.
After the front door is opened and stepped through, there is a brown round table in the right corner.
Look to the left and there is a jukebox and a catchy saying, a drawing or an upcoming event on a marker board before the bar and a line of black bar stools.
The gambling machines are lined up on the left after the table and on the back wall stands two well-used dart boards.
Restrooms are in the little hallway before the back door, which is open all summer long with a steady flow of people coming in or going out to the light gray plastic picnic table covered with chips, scratches and other signs of seating thousands of people in its lifetime.
Another familiarity is bartender Bob Mente.
“I try to have fun and not to have any problems, which I’ve had minimal problems over the years,” Mente said. “I try to meet people and I’ve met a lot of good people. I have some super friends that I’ve met here that I’ll probably have forever.
“The whole thing for me is that it has been like a Friday night out without doing any drinking. I don’t really do the drinking part, but I do the fun part with people. We just try to keep it clean and orderly and try to make sure everyone has a good time.”
Mente, 75 from Oglesby, has kept the good times rolling in the same building for 31 years and three months.
When he first started, he told his friend Tommy George he would help him fill one of his bartender vacancies at Tommy’s East End for two weeks. He never left.
The bartender was acquired by Laura Margis-Wilsman and Karl Hince when they bought the building in 2005.
However, the man who is more memorable than the furniture or the layout of the building will be entering East End as an employee for his last shift at 6 p.m. this Friday.
“Being honest, the crowd is getting less and less on Friday nights,” said Mente, who has also worked at Double D Express Inc. in Peru for the last 26 years. “I kind of blame myself in a way. I don’t think I did anything wrong — I try to be good to people and do the best that I can — but I think when you get to my age, the younger crowd wants someone younger here. They want someone they can relate to more and have fun with. I’m just past my time. I think it’s time to move on.
“The other thing is closing at 2 a.m. I don’t get home until 3 a.m. and then I wake up at 8 a.m. on Saturday because I have a lot of other work to do. I try to do my work but that’s a lot of pressure on an old body.”
When Mente told Margis-Wilsman of his decision to let a younger person take his position, she understood.
Still, she didn’t see eye to eye with Mente.
“I don’t agree with him at all,” Margis-Wilsman said. “I think Bob got along with everybody whether you were 21 or 70. He can talk to everybody about anything. I don’t believe him. It’s his choice, I don’t have to agree. Granted, I wish he would stay, but I understand. He has done this a long time.
“He’s going to be greatly missed. A lot of people have come into see him. He’s a big part of the community. He’s an icon here. I feel bad for the person who takes over because when he goes on vacation people come in and ask, ‘Um, where’s Bob?’ Nobody likes taking over for Bob when he’s gone. A few employees said, ‘I just don’t feel like I belong here.’”
The next Friday night bartender will be Kaylee Kalisiak.
It will be tough for her to fill Mente’s shoes, but Kalisiak is in a better position than most as the soon-to-be 21-year old is Margis-Wilsman’s niece and knows most Oglesby citizens.
If she stays behind the bar, maybe she’ll have stories and memories like Mente.
“The crowd has changed a lot. Back in the day, there was a lot of gambling,” Mente said. “We had an older crowd when I first got here. As Karl (Hince) and Laura (Margis-Wilsman) came in, the crowd became much younger. Things have changed of course with gambling. The machines are here and have pushed out the other gambling (cards, dice).
“The drinks have changed. It used to be just a shot and beer place, but now, there is a lot of mixed drinks, shots and a lot of weird combinations. When Tommy was here, I’d close at midnight and that was late. Now, I have to close at 2 a.m. and I guarantee you that 99.9% of the time there is still people here when I close.”
Mente will be missed at East End.
The bar’s clientele knew Fridays without their familiar face was going to come, but it’s still a shock.
“It’s always been fun talking to Bob,” said Mike Liebhart, an Oglesby native who has visited Mente on Friday nights for the last 10 years. “He’s a nice guy, he’s upbeat and he is fun to talk to about different sports even if he likes a different team than you like. He teases you about it and he’s a good sport.
“That’s one thing that’s good about Bob. From the young people to the old people, he knows how to relate to them and their different interests. He can carry a conversation with anyone. He’s a people person.”
In his 35-40 years of bartending — he started with his brother at the Vermillion Inn in Oglesby — Mente may think he only served beverages and entertained customers with conversation.
But throughout the years, he created strong bonds and became a family-like friend instead of just a bartender
“He’s been a great part of our lives. He’s been here for everything,” Margis-Wilsman said. “He’s been here for all of our highs and all of our lows. He stuck with us.”
Brandon LaChance is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6995, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.