Highland News Leader

Lenjo’s gears up to celebrate 40 years of business in Pocahontas

An old picture of Lenjo’s, a bar located at 209 Pocahontas Avenue in Pocahontas, Illinois. The bar is hosting a 40 year celebration on Sept. 15 to celebrate its years of business.
An old picture of Lenjo’s, a bar located at 209 Pocahontas Avenue in Pocahontas, Illinois. The bar is hosting a 40 year celebration on Sept. 15 to celebrate its years of business.

Lenjo’s is not the kind of bar where a newcomer can come in and post up at a bar stool in hopes of a lonely drink

Regulars sit in the dimly lit bar, cracking jokes—and beers—while recalling the hilarity in 40 years of Lenjo’s shenanigans.

“We’ve had a lot of things happen at Lenjo’s,” said Tracy Schuster, a bartender.

As rounds are bought, and stories flow as freely as the alcohol, no folly is safe. From the well-meant jests in tales about naked laps around the nearby ball diamond to professional dart players throwing games to win the favor of a lady, the camaraderie is enough to make a stranger feel like an old friend.

These memories can be seen in several picture-filled frames being curated into the “Lenjo’s’ Wall of Fame” by the bar’s owner, Joe Rakers.

“”I can’t believe it has already been 40 years,” Rakers said.

And it all started with a foosball tournament.

As a young man, Rakers had never set foot in Pocahontas, until his brother Lenny heard about a tournament at the old American Legion bar.

The brothers ended up facing off against Dave and Richie Melosi. Their family owned the property, and Rakers could tell they were good.

“But, I used to play a lot of foosball when I was a kid,” Rakers said.

Lenny and Joe claimed the trophy. However, they were impressed with their opponent’s skills and a friendship was formed.

Years later in 1978, that same bar was leveled by a fire. Lenny had been leasing the bar from the Melosi family, who asked if the brothers wanted to buy the property.

Lenny and Joe merged, and Lenjo’s was born.

“I was just 21 yet,” Rakers said.

It was February when the brothers bought the property.

Adjacent to the property is a set of ball diamonds, and it was their goal to have the bar raised by the start of softball season. Rakers recalled it was a very cold winter that year, but that would not dampen their tenacity.

In three months the bar sat ready for its mid-May debut. But in their haste, Rakers said they had forgotten one important detail for opening night.

“We were in such a hurry we didn’t have any bottle openers,” Rakers said

But, the brothers decided to make the mistake into a memory. They hammered nails into the bottle caps and bent the bottles sideways to open the beers.

“It was something that I always remembered. You know what I’m saying?” Rakers said.

Rakers said the bar was an instant hit.

“Back then, everybody came out it seemed like,” he said.

Every night was busy, and something was always happening.

On the weekends, Rakers said live music shows packed the house. The brothers were able to bring hit entertainers like Two For The Show Trio, a band that was able to score 30 points on The Gong Show.

Local pool sharks and dart players shot for their chance at a championship title in annual tournaments, which Rakers said drew some of the best players around, sometimes from different states. Corn hole enthusiast also got their own league, which still plays today every Wednesday night.

For the first few years, Rakers got to witness it all living out of the quarters they had built underneath the bar.

“It’s hard to live below a tavern,” He said with a smile and laugh.

But the main draw was always softball.

“Anyone who played ball in the 80s and 90s would always remember Lenjo’s,” Rakers said.

The bar’s patio overlooks the nearby ball diamonds, where the best teams from around the greater St. Louis area would gather to play ball. Rakers said the Lenjo’s teams were usually heavy hitters in the league, with the girls team even winning the ASA state championship in 1982.

“It was softball central at that time,” said Laura Knackstedt, a patron of the bar.

Knackstedt said she began playing softball at Lenjo’s when she was 15-years-old. But, as she grew older, she said it was the friends and memories she made at Lenjo’s that have kept her coming back for years and years.

Lenjo’s is type of bar that has family pictures plastered on the sides of each of its napkin holders. Behind the poker machines are proudly displayed canvases of Rakers with his daughter on her wedding day. From the countless stories he has, Rakers said that his favorite memories at the bar were watching his daughters grow up in the kitchen frying chicken before they were old enough to serve drinks.

Rakers looks at his customers and community with this same kind of fondness. Knackstedt explained this sentiment with tears welling in her eyes.

“They take care of their own,” she said.

Kim Simmonds, a friend of the Rakers family, who has worked at the bar for about three years, also spoke to this.

“He’s really just about family I think,” Simmonds said.

She said that Rakers is the type of business owner who will shut his bar down to encourage his customers to go benefit events like the Pocahontas-Old Ripley Fire Department barbeques. At Lenjo’s annual Christmas parties, Rakers makes sure that every attendee gets a gift. He also hosts fireworks displays for the community.

“It’s his money, nobody donates it,” she said.

But, Rakes gave a simple explanation for why he does it all.

“I just enjoy people,” Rakers said.

To celebrate and reminisce on 40 years of business, Lenjo’s will host a 40th anniversary party at the bar, located at 209 Pocahontas Avenue on Sept. 15.

Rakers said the party will go all day with live music, a bouncy house, and food served by the Cub Scouts and local fire department. At 2 p.m. a cornhole tournament and alumni softball games will begin.

“We’ll have an ambulance waiting in case,” Rakers said with a laugh.

The Lenjo’s Wall of Fame will also be on display, showcasing the years and years of fun. Rakers said that anyone they would like to share are more than welcome to bring them to the bar so they can be displayed.

The Robert Perry Band with the Original Mojos will take the stage from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Baywolfe will begin at 9 p.m. and play until 1 a.m. A “Lenjo’s Fireworks Spectacular” will also begin at dusk.

“I hope to see everybody around here, my old friends and everything,” Rakers said.