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Grind and Bare It

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This costuming trend did in no way discourage customers from visiting the Hi-Liter. "We had a real good clientele," Leah says. "Lawyers and doctors, and we used to have bowling teams come in." Jack remembers hosting a regular lawyers' night promotion. "There was a lot of guys that were professionals, in suits," he says. "It wasn't so much cowboys back then. Guys would come in with suitcoats on. They'd take those suit coats off and twirl 'em around their head."

It still is possible to see such crowds in the Hi-Liter today, although all of the Eurichs seem to sense a shift in topless demographics. "The average guy who comes in here is, I would say, 28 years old, a blue-collar construction worker who just got off work," Johnny says. "There are lawyers and office workers who come in with a group of friends, too. They come in, sit down, laugh, tell jokes, high-five each other and punch each other in the shoulder, and spit. Maybe they don't have any other release."

The Hi-Liter's file with the state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control isn't as thick as one might expect. There are a few citations and warnings, sure, but no more than most neighborhood taps would have. Despite the apparently toughened mix of customers over the years, the club's only close brush with a license revocation came in the late Seventies, when Jack tried a short experiment with what was then a new trend in exotic dancing. "The one time I almost lost my license, it was because of a male dancer," Jack says. "It was a girl grabbing at his privates."

Still, says Leah, who longs for tamer times, "it's harder than it used to be. It seems like the people are different. It's a lot younger crowd, more from 21 to 30. We used to have older people coming in, and a lot of couples, believe it or not."

"I'VE BEEN PUNCHED, kicked, robbed and hit with a club," says Johnny Eurich, Hi-Liter manager, explaining his attraction to the place. "But my whole life I've been supported by this bar. You feel kind of an obligation to not milk it for everything it's got. You feel like you owe something.

"When I started working here, when I was barely over the legal age, I started to see what my parents went through. I started to see employees screwing up on my mom and dad's time, and I wanted to do something about it. People were--not stealing--but someone would lift a six-pack out of the back room on their way out. It took that for me to really come to see the faults of the place.

"It's never dull. You can always expect some kind of liveliness. That's what makes it interesting."

At this point, just about everybody on both sides of Johnny Eurich's family has worked in the lounge at one time or another. Both of Johnny's brothers tend bar. Johnny's mother-in-law tends bar on Sunday nights. Johnny met his wife Tracey there, through Tracey's sister Cindy, one of the more popular Hi-Liter dancers. After the wedding, Tracey became a dancer, too. "She would come in and visit when I was working," Johnny says. "She would look up and say, `Oh, he's always looking at the girls, maybe I should do it.'" They have a five-year-old girl but have been separated for several months.

Johnny expects his dad to sell his share of the bar to him and the other Eurich kids someday, as soon as some legal action against the bar (brought by a former customer) is cleared up. Jack doesn't come in much anymore, Johnny says. "He's generous, but he keeps to himself a lot," Johnny says. "His mind has changed over the years. He doesn't believe that making money through alcohol is right. He's sixty years old. When you get older I guess you start feeling more self- conscious about things."

IT'S TRUE. Jack Eurich, one of the local pioneers of this kind of thing, wants to get out. An era is ending.

"I enjoyed it at first," he says, "when I was creating--like putting tops on the pool tables and black lights and decorating the new place. You're inventive and creative. Once I built the new place, I just kind of lost interest. As you get older, the music gets louder, and you get more nervous."

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Dave Walker