Family-owned Valent's serves third generation of third shifters
In 1946, Ann and Gus Valent opened the neighborhood bar and restaurant called Valent's, 3853 N. Richards St., to cater to local factory employees, specifically those people who worked at the American Motors Corporation on Capitol Drive (now Wal-Mart).
Until the plant closed in 1987, Valent's was open almost 24-hours -- from 6 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. -- and served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today, the bar still appeals to third shifters, but the hours are more limited.
"There were three shifts at American Motors, and we got workers from all three," says Jane Milach, Ann's daughter.
Ann did a lot of the cooking herself. A regular, who goes by the name "Granola," reminisces about one of her sandwiches:
"It was a bacon, egg, cheese and jelly sandwich. Extra butter, extra jelly, on wheat bread," he says. "Mmmm."
These days, Valent's is a quieter establishment. The rising price of food and the decline of customers forced the family to stop serving food last November. However, Milach says they are not going to close the bar.
"We're die-hards," she says. "We still have regulars from smaller factories in the area and there are people who used to work at AMC and still come in to see us. Many of our customers are lifers. This is a family place."
Gus died in 2002, but his family continues to run the bar, with women doing most of the work. Ann has worked every day since 1946, except on Sundays when she attends church.
Today, Ann still works behind the bar along with a couple of her daughters. Her grandchildren occasionally help out, too, and her great grandchildren toddle around the bar like their parents and their parents' parents did.
"It's just the girls now," says Milach. "My mother is the Energizer Bunny. They broke the mold when they made her. She is 86, and for the first time after working in a bar and restaurant almost her entire life, she complained of knee pain about three months ago, so I took her to the doctor."
Milach's daughter, Sheila Koch, 36, used to bus tables at Valent's on roller skates in the '80s.
"I had to quit working here or else I never would have left," says Koch, who is now a travel agent.
Today, Valent's serves cans of beer for $2.25: Pabst, Blatz, Miller, Point and Budweiser. It also features a full bar and a lottery and candy business.
The bar is adorned with emblems from many of the cars that were made across the street at American Motors Corporation, including Pacer, Alliance and Encore. Milach says third shift workers still swing by for morning drinks and that it gets very busy on Friday afternoons and evenings with day-shift employees.
The decor at Valent's is simple, with a dozen wooden tables and chairs, large windows and dozens of healthy potted plants.
"I was always a gardener," says Ann. "I cut my father's lawn before he even asked. In fact, he would ask my big brother to do it and he would say, 'Annie already did it.'"
Ann is the daughter of the original owners of Kegel's, 5900 W. National Ave. She spent her entire life working in a bar and restaurant, and yet, she never cared for it.
"I never liked the tavern business," she says. "It's too absorbing. It makes family come second when family should come first. Don't you agree?"
Ann says Gus, however, loved being behind the bar. "Everyone knew him. He loved this place. He was born for it," she says.
Ann says she rarely drank alcoholic beverages and that even though Gus poured drinks night after night, she only saw him drunk a few times.
"He didn't need liquor," she said. "He needed people."
According to Ann, the smoking ban has not affected business, even though many of her customers are smokers.
"The customers are taking it very well. They've been great about it," she says. "And we're happy. The ashtrays were always the bane of our existence."
great place for a drink. very unique. it sucks that they don't serve food anymore. the meatloaf sandwich was awesome.
I work nearby and will miss her breakfasts. Used to get them all the time. True definition of a greasy spoon. I haven't ever drank here, but loved the great greasy breakfasts.
I've wanted to stop by there for years. It's the inviting old school exterior and classic Schlitz sign...but the $2.25 beer prices don't hurt.
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