Where everybody knows your name

For all of the Horatio Alger mythology and entrepreneurial success stories that have come to define the United States of America, we’re often forced to stare down the other side of the coin. Businesses that we know and love, businesses that have become a part of our fabric over the years, shut their doors and leave an empty spot in our hearts. In small towns from Maine to California, the only remnants are vacated buildings and years worth of irreplaceable memories.


Greezy’z Bar in Whitten was about as far off the beaten path as a place could be, and despite its status literally blocks from the Grundy County line, many readers may find themselves unfamiliar with it. Unpretentious to its core, the establishment closed down for the final time on Saturday night with karaoke, American beer and the kinds of whiskey you can buy a handle of for less than $20. That was Greezy’z, and it was never going to change.


Watering holes are known for the people who frequent them, and the regulars created a cast worthy of “Cheers” or Toby Keith’s song “I Love This Bar.” Even the karaoke machine, which utilized compact discs and required prospective singers to look through a massive binder before making a selection, felt like an anachronism of sorts, but that’s always been part of the charm.


And the music itself—primarily honky-tonk swing from Johnny Cash all the way up to Brooks and Dunn—symbolized an era when country and western had an identity of its own without bending to the whims of rappers and “innovators” who seek to turn it into an unrecognizable monogenre.


I sang Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, David Allan Coe and Pure Prairie League. I couldn’t convince Kellie to duet with me on “It Ain’t Me, Babe” or “In Spite of Ourselves,” but that’s a separate matter.


Two songs in particular infected me with a wistful feeling as I bid farewell to a bar that had welcomed in a complete outsider from the far reaches of northwest Iowa and hosted Catfish Murphy on some of the best nights of my life—although, as a disclaimer, I must concede that my visits had become much more infrequent in the last few years as I left the band and settled into something resembling a normal adult existence.


I joined forces with Harris Haywood, a consummate cowboy pulled straight from “Lonesome Dove” with a mustache that would knock Tom Selleck down a notch, on “American Pie,” Don McLean’s timeless elegy of innocence, the dirge for those blue-eyed rock n’ rollers whose worlds came crashing down not more than an hour and a half north of here—all eight and a half minutes of it.


An hour or so later, Harris and Jim Meyer belted out the old Roy Rogers tune “Happy Trails to You,” and while nobody cried, the reality had set in: once the lights went out, they’d never come back on again.


Before I left, I thanked owner Betty Cole for everything: for always having a sense of humor, for taking a flyer on a band that she knew next to nothing about and for running an establishment—along with her late brother Jr.—that made people feel at home. Greezy’z wasn’t revolutionary, it wasn’t glitzy and it certainly wasn’t going to inspire any profile pieces in The New York Times or Forbes magazine.


But for those of us out here in the middle, it served as a welcome escape from the rigors of a long workweek or the general stress associated with being alive, and for that, it will be sorely missed.


Happy trails, Greezy’z.


“And the three men I admire most, the father, son and Holy Ghost. They caught the last train for the coast, the day, the music died…”