The best time to visit Kewanee is during the annual Hog Days festival (August 29 to September 1, 309-852-2175), when locals and visitors take to the streets for three days of socializing, drinking beer, and eating pork chops, fried dough, fried onions, French fries, gyros, brats, and calzones. Store windows are decorated with pigs, and there's a carnival midway with games and rides plus a hog dunk. If you get bored, try the helicopter rides or mud volleyball. Last summer a roving band of Andes mountain musicians were in the downtown park performing alongside people selling crafts, antiques, worthless collectibles, and vintage clothing. But you mustn't miss the three semitrailers-cum-BBQ grills, where scores of sweating old men from the VFW, Pork Producers Association, National Guard, and American Legion battle flies and heat to grill 20,000 butterfly pork chops and 10,000 pork patties over the weekend.
Kewanee is named for the Winnebago word for prairie chicken, though there haven't been any prairie chickens around for quite some time. The town now calls itself the Hog Capital of the World, though the major employers are manufacturing plants that produce such things as tools, conveyor systems, leaf mulchers, log splitters, and gloves.
Kewanee is located several miles south of I-80, three hours west of Chicago and an hour southeast of the Quad Cities, and it's accessible by train and air. As you travel down route 34 and get closer to town, farms give way to neat frame houses whose front yards are decorated with pig-theme lawn ornaments.
Route 34/78 turns into downtown Kewanee's Main Street. A skywalk marks Good's Furniture Showplace (200 N. Main, 309-852-5656), which takes up two city blocks. In addition to acres of furniture (the tags have a crossed-out price and a "real" discount price), there's a children's play area, an ice cream shop, a Bavarian-style restaurant with wine cellar, a bakery, a candy shop, a gift shop, a hair salon, and glass elevators that travel between the two floors. Good's has been around since 1895 and employs some 130 people; if you watch TV at all while you're in town you'll probably catch Mary Good herself hawking furniture.
As for accommodations, if you're going whole hog Good's Bed 'n Breakfast (309-852-5656) has showroom-new country-decor rooms, baskets of snacks, fridges full of soft drinks, and comfortable beds. Rooms range from $75 to $125 (which includes Jacuzzi, skylight, raised dining area, wet bar, and L.L. Bean terry-cloth robes in the closet). All rooms have cable TV and phones. Reservations are recommended, since there are only four rooms. The rate includes breakfast anywhere inside the emporium; we chose to dine on homemade granola and muffins on the skywalk, where we had a view of Kewanee's grain elevator and its version of morning rush hour.
For a more bohemian experience try the Kewanee Hotel & Motel (125 N. Chestnut, 309-852-2141), where the rates range from $25 to $39. The once-grand downtown hotel, built in 1916, has fallen on hard times and now houses a scary-looking lounge called Night Moves, an old-time barbershop, and a handful of single old men. Weekly rates include air-conditioning, HBO, and free local calls. If you're in a more tepid mood, try the Kewanee Motor Lodge (400 S. Main, 309-853-4000), an 11-year old, 30-unit facility. Rates start at $45 for two people and include phone, air-conditioning, and Cinemax.
Lloyd's Club (213 W. Third, 309-853-3469) is a dark lounge built in 1898 whose beautiful wood bar is the length of a city block--it's billed as the "longest bar in the world." You can still sit on the stools depicted in the old-fashioned photos on the wall. Ann's Place, as it was called in the old days, remained open during Prohibition, and the buzzers that summoned service are still on the walls. Food is served from 5 to 9, and the jukebox titles range from Ricky Van Shelton to Smashing Pumpkins.
At the Zodiac Club (204 N. Chestnut, 309-852-3175), darts and pool attract a friendly mix of elderly white women and younger African-Americans and Latinos. Beer is only $1, and the bar food includes chimichangas, burritos, and egg rolls.
If you're underage, the Grand Central Fun Center (300 W. Third, 309-853-2805) has pool, Skee-ball, pinball, and a sugar- and salt-based snack counter. In summer there are also go-carts and batting cages. If you rack up enough tickets playing the games you can "win" a giant Homer Simpson doll.
The Aku-tiki room of the Andris Waunee Farm Restaurant (at the intersection of routes 34 and 78, 309-852-2481) is decorated with totems, a canoe, and Hawaiian flowers; the menu includes prime rib, red snapper, veggie appetizers, a salad bar, and, of course, tropical drinks in glasses with parasols. In the other half of the restaurant the specialty is an American smorgasbord ($7.95), which can include roast beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, baked beans, salads, and homemade chocolate pudding.
We had a tasty, garlicky vegetable pasta dish ($7.95) at Anthony's Great Plains Restaurant (618 S. Tenney, 309-856-5805), which included a trip to an impressive "harvest wagon" salad bar. Beer was $1 here too. Also on the menu are steak, fish, poultry, hickory-smoked meats, southwest items, and sandwiches.
We were the only customers under 60 the day we lunched at the Baron Family Restaurant (409 Tenney, 309-853-1535), a rather nondescript pancake house whose claim to fame is "breakfast anytime." Prices are cheap--pancakes are $2.45, eggs or grilled-cheese sandwiches are $2.35--but the pickings are slim for strict vegetarians. The tap water in Kewanee tastes like an unholy mixture of salt and eggs, so be sure to order something else.
No trip to Kewanee is complete without a visit to the Union Federal Savings & Loan (104 N. Tremont, 309-853-3537), where two otters frolic in a tank in the middle of the lobby. Andy and Oscar are an endangered species in Illinois and enjoy better digs than what's provided by most zoos; their multilevel condo features a fountain, a slide, rocks, and a 5,000-gallon aquarium. In the winter they're given buckets of snow.
The A-Z Resale Shop (227 W. Second, 309-852-4103) is full of grandparents; it's run by the town's senior center, which means that the coffee and cookies they sell are the real thing. The store has a large selection of cool jackets (I found one for $1), shoes, books, hats, and whimsical crafts. At the annex around the corner you'll find furniture, lamps, and more crafts.
Excelled Sheepskin & Leather (1700 Burlington, 309-852-0102) supplies Henry County residents with discount leather jackets, coats, hats, skirts, pants, chaps, and vests made from the skins of pigs, horses, lambs, sheep, and cows. Styles range from varsity jackets to military-style bomber jackets ($99-$300). Most are made at the adjacent factory, which dates back to the 1950s. --Cara Jepsen