By Dave Hoekstra
Bert Cummings loved nothing more than horses–and horseplay. He used to ride his pinto in south suburban parades and then bring the horse into his country-music tavern, the Pinto Lounge, for a CC & 7. His horse, Pronto, would drink right out of the glass.
A former beautician, Bert opened the Pinto Lounge in 1962, next to the Rock Island railroad tracks in downtown Tinley Park. He built the bar in the shape of a horseshoe, covered its edges with pinto hide and cattle brands, and mounted a Plexiglas spotted pinto on the roof. During the parades the pinto would come down off the roof and be mounted on a truck to follow behind Bert and Pronto, with a country-music combo bringing up the rear on a flatbed trailer. In 1995 Bert rode off into the sunset, a victim of emphysema and heart disease, but Betty, his wife for 40 years, took over the lounge. She’s finally sold it, to a pair of suburban entrepreneurs who are turning it into a jazz club and piano bar. Last call is this Saturday, but a week ago Sunday nearly 200 people turned out for a party to honor Betty and remember Bert.
Betty hasn’t done much to the place since Bert died. A wall near the stage is decorated with publicity shots of bluegrass and country artists come and gone–Jack Cotton & the Southern Connection, the Tennessee Rail Splitters. Plastic letters on the wall identify them as “Friends of Mine That Have Entertained You.” The tavern’s west wall is lined with drinking glasses in the shape of cowboy boots, nearly 300 of them. Each glass is numbered in honor of a patron; Bert used to turn one upside down every time a regular passed away. The stage is anchored by a pinto rocking horse and a rustic wagon wheel. A nearby jukebox features selections like Janie Fricke’s “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy” and the 45 that Bert himself recorded, “Silver Dollar Horse Shoe Bar.”
The tavern’s original bar rests against the wall by the stage, embedded with over a thousand silver dollars donated by customers. On Saturdays Bert used to walk into the bar wearing a pinto-patterned cowboy getup and a holster with two cap guns. “He would drill holes in silver dollars and throw them up in the air,” Betty recalls. “And then he’d fire the guns to make believe he shot the silver dollars.” Other times Bert would sneak up behind a patron and shoot him in the butt.
Betty hates to leave the Pinto behind. “It’s not going to be easy,” she says, greeting friends and musicians at the door. “I’ve got lots of memories in there.” Her father was a baggage clerk for the Rock Island line across the parking lot from the building that’s now the lounge. But Betty knows it’s time to go. She’s 65 years old, and she wants to spend more time with her grandchildren and her daughter, Debbie. Spotted black-and-white pinto-bell earrings dangle from her ears, and she shakes her head lightly to make them jingle.
Wally Quinlan, a 57-year-old lightbulb salesman from Tinley Park, has been going to the Pinto for 26 years. Usually he’s glad to see lights go out, but not this time. “I’ll miss this place,” he says, standing in front of the building, his black-and-white polo shirt matching the coloring of Bert’s Plexiglas pinto overhead. Married for 34 years, Quinlan has a daughter and two grandchildren, but he’s become part of the Pinto Lounge family. He was even a pallbearer at Bert’s funeral. The new owners are letting Wally buy his favorite bar stool.
Cubby, a five-year-old Labrador-shepherd mix, has the run of the place. Often she’ll sit on a bar stool with her front paws on the bar; this evening she’s sprawled out across it. “Cubby’s going to have a rough adjustment,” says Mac McNulty, Betty’s son-in-law. His father, Bill, played guitar with the Sundowners when they gigged at the hillbilly bars on West Madison.
The new owners, both in their early 30s, are here for the party. Alex Kazmierczak is a plumbing superintendent in Tinley Park, and Stanley Sikora is a contractor in the western suburbs. They plan to reopen the lounge as “J.W. Holstein’s,” using a Gilded Age motif. They promise to keep some of the Pinto’s memorabilia for a decor that will trace the history of Tinley Park. As Alex puts it, “We want to keep Bert and Betty’s name alive.” Ed Zabrocki, the mayor of Tinley Park, has claimed the Plexiglas pinto for the Tinley Park Historical Society. “The Pinto Lounge has been an unofficial landmark for our community for many years,” he says.
The country band Crossfyre, longtime veterans of the local country scene, take the stage. Wayne Douglas, vocalist and guitarist for the band, played his first gig at the Pinto when he was 17. Now he’s 46. The band launches into Arleigh Duff’s classic “Y’All Come,” Bert’s old signature song at the end of the evening. The guests raise their hands and clap along as Douglas sings: “Kinfolks a-comin’, they’re comin’ by the dozen / Eatin’ ever’thing from soup to hay / And right after dinner, they ain’t lookin’ any thinner / And here’s what you hear them say: / Y’all come! Y’all come!…” Wally the lightbulb salesman tries to reclaim his bar space from the dog. Mac buys long-necked bottles of beer for his friends. And off in the shadows, Betty seems to be contemplating happy trails.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Marty Perez.