Proclaimed as “The Home of the Drinking Illini”, KAMS opened in its new location at the corner of First and Green Street in Champaign last night.
When it comes to Illinois, the “Three In One” is revered as the centerpiece of Illini tradition. Along with the Marching Illini’s rendition, KAMS has effectively transformed itself into its own Three In One: three bars under one roof. Besides KAMS, Stan’s Gridiron and Second Chance occupy two other spaces within the establishment. Each region of the bar provides its own unique character, while providing an enjoyable venue for everyone, regardless of where they are at.
I got into line at KAMS for the grand opening at 7:30 p.m., the first and only person in line. Ten minutes later, the line had grown tremendously. By 8 p.m., the line stretched for an entire block, down to Second Street, the longest such line I had seen in my time at Illinois.
Being the first one inside, I was immediately greeted by the options of heading to any of the three bars: KAMS on the right, Stan’s on the left, and Second Chance upstairs. Paying homage to what I knew, I spent my first hour and a half in KAMS. While everybody reminisces on KAMS for its less desirable aspects and smells, I felt right at home in the new location. Tons of TV’s filled the ceiling, showing pretty much any sporting event one could wish to see. The ultimate touch though, was the decor decorating the bar. Besides KAMS memorabilia on the west side, the east side of the bar was adorned with an Alma Mater mural, granted one without a head, that had been the centerpiece of KAMS’ beer garden in the old location. Looking above the bar, a giant “Block I” sat above the bar, filled with photos of KAMS-goers from various times in history. The person sitting next to me found their parents up in the ceiling, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find myself. Hopefully with more considerate attention to detail, I might find myself upon my next visit.
Stan’s Gridiron is the smallest bar of the “Three In One”, occupying a small space on the far west end of the building. Of the three discrete parts of the bar, I found this one to be the least of the three, but still great in its own way. All three “bars” serve the same drinks, but each has its own atmosphere. Stan’s was the quietest place, and also the darkest of the three.
Occupying the entirety of the second floor was “Second Chance”, a bar named in honor of the infamous location that once served campus until it unfortunately burned down in a fire. It goes beyond its namesake though, giving a second chance to the many bars of Champaign-Urbana’s past, with numerous plaques honoring and describing the history of numerous locations that many students wouldn’t recognize. As a local resident, I had heard stories about many of these locations and found it touching that they were honored in such a fashion. Besides the plaques, lights and other salvageable materials adorned the wall, and I was happy to see that the front sign from Firehaus had been placed along one of the walls, paying homage to a recently closed bar that had been a staple of mine in my early days.
Unfortunately, neither of the beer gardens were accessible this evening. The new location has a first floor beer garden on the north side of the building, while the second floor has a quite large “terrace” overlooking Green Street. Once spring comes and the weather improves, both of these spots should be huge draws for the new location.
I loved old KAMS, with all of its imperfections and issues, smell and all, but I was honestly deeply surprised at how well the new location not only honored the past, but emulated it. If it wasn’t for the fact that my shoes didn’t stick to the floor and it smelt like anything else, I would have thought it was the same old KAMS I loved on Daniel Street.
Needless to say, KAMS (and its accompanying bars) should continue to serve as the “Home of the Drinking Illini” for years to come, and it should become quite the spot before, during and after Illini games. I can’t wait to see what new traditions come out of this location, and how the old ones such as “icing out” are continued to be honored in a newer, much nicer, location.