In the same Kirkwood Avenue location for 69 years, owned by the same man for 49 of them, Nick’s English Hut is all about tradition and permanence.
On game weekends, alumni visit for a shot of nostalgia and a beer chaser, maybe a strom or a pizza. Current IU students find their way to the darkened bar, its walls plastered with the memorabilia of long-gone generations, to create their own memories, their own reasons to return. The one thing they can count on is that this cherished Bloomington institution doesn’t change.
To help ensure continuity, owner Dick Barnes brought in two managing partners in 2005, Rags and Mugsy, who sound like cartoon characters but are really chef Gregg Rago and Mike Hall. Having worked at Nick’s since 1978, Rags is the bar’s institutional memory, but lately he has also become its instrument of change.
You have to look closely at the menu to see it. The old favorites are all there—those pizzas and stroms and burgers and fries. Nick’s is still a college bar after all, and a much bigger one than some alums might remember, having absorbed the building next door which enables Nick’s to seat 600 on a busy night.
But examine the menu a little more closely. The Nick’s Burger is made with Fischer Farms beef now, from a small family farm in Schnellville, Indiana, and there is an Elk Burger too, from Long Elk Farm, in Greene County. These burgers are delicious, meaty, liberally layered with all the fixings.
And if you haven’t seen a salad at Nick’s lately, don’t expect iceberg lettuce. Rags’ Big Bowl Salads are stunning arrangements of the freshest produce, much of it from local farmers. Gorgeous green leaf lettuces, tangles of shredded cabbage and carrot, maybe a few cherry tomatoes or some cucumber slices, topped, if you like, with grilled chicken, or fish, and drizzled with house-made dressing.
And then there are the soups—warming food made from scratch by Rags with more good local stuff, beef and vegetable, perhaps, or potato and shitake mushroom.
Want something a little more sustaining for dinner? Try a juicy grilled steak, fresh green salad, and Nick’s luscious chocolate cake, a creation of pastry chef Dave Davenport.
No, this is not your father’s Nick’s. Rags is dedicated to producing fabulous food. He says, “I have a passion for food and a passion for Nick’s that are inseparable, and a passion for supporting the local community and the local farmers. I put myself on the line with the food we present here—I take it very personally. And I let the food speak for itself.” We’re listening, Rags.