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Ahern: Music, food and fun at Ellie’s Cafe in Beverly

GloriShann(singing) Bonni McKeown (piano) are Barrelhouse Ladies musical act throcks house Ellie’s Cafe Chicago’s Beverly community. | Supplied Photo

Gloria Shannon (singing) and Bonni McKeown (on piano) are the Barrelhouse Ladies, a musical act that rocks the house at Ellie’s Cafe in Chicago’s Beverly community. | Supplied Photo

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Updated: November 8, 2012 6:12AM



Take a tasty menu of food and throw in two musicians who put on a foot-tapping performance of the blues, and suddenly Sundays in Chicago’s Beverly community seem a lot more fun.

Ellie’s Cafe, 10701 S. Hale Ave., Chicago, is a longtime restaurant that not only changed hands recently, but also changed its whole personality, as well. Those changes are due to new owner Cathy Stacey’s efforts to draw in new business to the restaurant, which she opened in April.

Working with her mom Ellie (whose name graces the restaurant) and many of her nine siblings, Stacey is working hard to make a success of her business. Toward that end, she has expanded the restaurant’s menu and includes a variety of performances — musical acts, poetry slams, political discussion groups and, on the third Sunday of the month, the Barrelhouse Ladies.

All the events help to increase the number of patrons who pop in for a meal and fun.

“We can seat about 40 people,” Stacey said. “More and more people are finding us, and a lot of young people come to our poetry night. Poetry is such an expressive art, and the poets make quite an impact.”

Stacey’s mom instilled in her a love of cooking.

“My mom never opened a can when we were little,” Stacey said. “I think I was 16 when I did. I was baby-sitting and I opened a can of soup. I couldn’t believe people would eat that stuff.”

Stacey’s love of cooking sent her to a culinary school in Glenview, and later she also visited Italy, where she stayed for six months, cooking in an Italian restaurant.

“I loved it,” Stacey said. “I didn’t want to come home.”

Stacey, who was born and raised in Beverly, knows the neighborhood well, and while her career path gave her other jobs along the way, it was cooking that always made her happy.

When Stacey bought the business she began to divide her time between Valparaiso, Ind., and Chicago. During the time she is in the city, she stays with her mom, who she says is always at the restaurant.

“My mom is always here,” Stacey said. “She is a great cook and she does whatever needs doing here. She cleans, she cooks, she buses — she’s great.”

On a recent Sunday, Ellie’s Cafe featured a musical performance by the Barrelhouse Ladies. The group, which consists of Bonni McKeown and Gloria Shannon, put on a rollicking show, with Shannon, 76, belting out songs that rocked the house.

McKeown, who only admits to being “over 60,” accompanied Shannon on the piano, mastering a blues beat and a soulful feeling that confirmed no city can claim the blues the way Chicago can.

Shannon, who said she is proud to be the oldest blues singer in Chicago who was not born in the South, said the Barrelhouse Ladies play their version of jazz, boogie and blues music for a wide variety of events.

“We’ll play for wakes, wedding parties, confusion, fights, make-ups, breakups and even money,” Shannon said jokingly. “We’ll perform anywhere that pays.”

McKeown said the two met “not too long ago” and discovered a mutual love of music and the blues.

“We like the same kind of music, and we felt it was a valuable thing to stay friends,” McKeown said. “We try to adapt our act for a couple of ladies that goes back to the ’30s. I am a caretaker at a Quaker parsonage, and blues are part of my ministry. I think blues are a way to bring people together.”

The two share laughter through their musical set, singing songs together and sometimes occasionally share naughty (but still tasteful) music that is, according to McKeown’s website, “from juke joints and barrelhouses of the South.”

Stacey said she is pleased to have the Barrelhouse Ladies perform from noon to 3 p.m. the third Sunday of the month at Ellie’s Cafe.

“I love having the ladies here, and more and more people are finding their way here,” Stacey said. “We are a family business and we care about our customers. We are dedicated to good food and we are a part of this community that is here to stay.”

Ellie’s Cafe has Music Night from 6 to 9 p.m. the last Saturday of the month.

Open mike Poetry Night is held from 7 to 10 p.m. the third Saturday of the month, but October’s Poetry Night will be Oct. 13.

For more information about Ellie’s Cafe and a full schedule of events, visit www.elliescafe.com or call (773) 941-4401.

For more information about the Barrelhouse Ladies, visit www.barrelhousebonni.com.



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