HIGHLAND — While the rest of us might have seen a rundown bar in an old brick building next to railroad tracks, Steve Dugan saw something else. He envisioned Railshake: a restaurant, a bar and, soon, a micro-brewery.
"A buddy brought me up here. He talked me into looking at it. He said it was going to be demolished," Steve said, sitting in the pristinely renovated building. The former Railshake Inn had been shuttered since 2010. "It had been a bar for about 100 years; I used to drink in here. It was a dump."
The owner of The Copper Dock Winery in Pochahontas, Steve said he wasn't looking to add more work hours to his week, but he couldn't resist.
Ten months after its purchase, the building has been gutted and rebuilt with vintage advertising repainted on the exterior. A kitchen, a brewhouse and a big, shaded side patio were added. There's a parking lot in back. Railshake Brewery opened at the end of September.
The ceilings in the bar are 12 feet high. Interior plaster walls were removed to reveal brick, which is framed by black trim and matching beadboard ceilings. Thick, dark wood laminate floors are underfoot and tall windows filter in autumn light.
Modern touches include flat-screen TVs and a frost rail along the bar to keep drinks cold.
Steve, 61, turned over the reins of the operation to general managers Teffy Beard, of Highland, and Brent Grapperhaus, of Pocahontas, who also is the brewmaster. In the kitchen, Steve chose Chef Jake Houchlei, of Highland, who, like Brent, had worked for him at Copper Dock.
For the menu, Steve had only one word: Cajun.
"Because I like it. ... I fell in love with it. And if I have a bar and brewery and I have to be there more than I want to be, doggone it, I'm gonna have Cajun food," he said, laughing. "I'm not gonna do pizza. Everybody does pizza."
About a third of the menu is Cajun, from Shrimp and Grits ($7) to the Etouffee and Hush Puppies plate ($13, with salad and side). The gumbo ($3/$5) has andouille sausage and blackened chicken in it. The Cajun Alfredo ($8, with salad and garlic bread) is a spicy cream sauce over fettuccine. Add shrimp or chicken for $2 more. The Muffaletta basket ($6/$10, with side) is New Orleans-style, made with country hard salami and smoked ham topped with olive relish and Provel cheese. It can be served hot or cold.
If you're looking for something more tame, you'll find burger, fish and grilled chicken sandwich baskets. The House Smoked Pulled Pork sandwich with coleslaw is $6. The Beer Cheese Soup ($3/$5) is made with potato, smoked gouda cheese and Stag beer.
The pastas and the plates, from rib-eye to catfish and a New York strip steak, are served after 4 p.m.; everything else is offered all day. There's a kids menu. Desserts can change, but currently include a five-layer chocolate cake and Red Velvet Cheesecake ($6).
At the bar, a smorgasbord of brew is on tap, from a Schlafly Porter and a Woodchuck apple cider to a Weihenstephan lager and a 1554 Black Ale. All are $3.50/$5.50.
The brewery is expected to be up and running by early 2014, said Brent, who has been homebrewing for almost a decade.
"I'm waiting on equipment," he said.
Brent thinks the Railshake Brewery will set itself apart in the metro-east by having a companion restaurant. Typically, micro-breweries don't prepare food.
"So, people can come in here and order one of our beers and eat, too," Steve said.
Call if you want to see if there will be live music. Brent is working on booking bands to play from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Saturdays.
The business comes by it's name honestly, too: You feel just a slight vibration as a train passes by -- but not enough to slosh any beer.
What: Serves lunch and dinner. Full bar with a wide variety of craft beers on tap. Patio. Brewery is expected to open early 2014.
Where: 504 Walnut St., Highland. If you come into town on Illinois 160, turn left or north at the light at Walnut and follow it around; it will take you right to the business.
Hours: Food is served from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and to 2 p.m. Sundays. Bar is open to 1 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays, to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 10 p.m. Sundays.
Information: 618-651-4900. Also go to Railshake Brewery on facebook and railshakebrewery.com