Enjoy good company and classic cars

Story BY Vanessa Ray
Photos by Dana Stiefel

It’s one of those perfect spring evenings in May when the sun is out, dogwood blossoms dot the trees and the temperature is warm, but not yet oppressively hot.

After a week straight of rain, the weather is a serendipitous reprieve and on this night at the Northside Bar and Grill, it appears a good portion of Monroe has had the same idea.

Thanks to the sun’s balmy appearance, the patio of the comfortable neighborhood restaurant and tavern nestled along N. Monroe St. near Nadeau Rd. is packed to capacity.

One of Northside’s biggest draws is its burgers, known as one of the best in Monroe. However, on each Wednesday evening until early August the burgers take a back seat, quite literally, to Northside’s Car Cruise.

Starting a little before 6 p.m. the cars – in varying arrays of makes, models, shades, finishes and years of production – begin to arrive and park along the outer edge of the lot.

For the past seven years, residents of Monroe and the surrounding areas have made their way to Northside’s Car Cruise to enjoy a great meal and a cold beer (they have 24 draft beers on tap) while admiring the cars and listening to music from the 1960s and 70s.

In addition to the Car Cruise on Wednesday nights, John Imo, Northside’s owner, who, like most nights is busy helping his staff, also welcomes local charities and groups. On this night, the American Cancer Society is here and in another week it will be Flags O’er Veterans.

“Every week he allows any charity to be here; they just have to call John up and show up,” said Mary O’Lear of the American Cancer Society. “It’s his way of giving back to the community.”

Imo’s friendly, accommodating personality makes him a hit with both his employees and patrons, O’Lear said.

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” she said. “He truly is a wonderful person.”

The free raffle that goes along with the Car Cruise Wednesdays is also an incentive.

“It’s a random raffle we do throughout the whole season,” Imo said. “Every time a customer comes here on a Wednesday, they receive a wooden token.”

Customers are instructed to save the tokens throughout the summer – they can then be turned in for raffle tickets beginning the first week of August.

“Our last event of the year, we do a $2,000 cash first place, and $500 for second,” Imo said. “So, the more you come during the summer, the more chances you have to get in the drawing.”

While the raffle is a draw, it’s the cars bringing the masses here this evening. Even though the patio is packed and there are currently 36 cars on display, Imo said it was a slow night – mainly due to an impending holiday.

“Right now, it’s going to be slower because of Memorial Day,” Imo said. “But on a nice summer night, we’ll get anywhere from 100 to 125 cars.”
He’s hoping to expand this year.

“We have two acres (behind the restaurant) we recently leased,” Imo said. “And that will give us even more parking for our car shows.”

Car Cruise
When talking about Northside Bar and Grill and its events, there is only one rule about which Imo is adamant: No cars will be turned away.

“It’s a car cruise, so it’s not a show,” Imo said. “It’s casual. Just show up.”

He invites anyone who would like to participate, no matter how old or modern their car may be.

“We don’t do any trophies, and there are no affiliations with any groups,” Imo said. “Just come out, enjoy a burger and have fun.”

On this evening 36 cars are on display, ranging from a bright yellow 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe hot rod, just like John Milner drove in “American Graffiti,” to a candy apple red C7 model Chevy Corvette Stingray.

Young and old alike take in the beauty of the machines on display, commenting to one another and taking photos.

“Look mom,” said 12-year-old Chris Kososki while pointing at a 1976 Ford Bronco. “It’s your dream car!”

Sandy Kososki comments on the beauty of the car, while Chris is running off to look at the Stingray.

Chris’ father, Christopher Kososki, said his son is basically an encyclopedia when it comes to cars – especially newer high-end models.

“He really likes Ferraris and can tell you whatever you want to know about them, but he just loves any higher-end car,” Christopher said. “He’s been eyeing that Stingray and the Nissan GTR ever since we got here.”

Right on cue, Chris runs over to share some news.

“Hey dad,” Chris said, his eyes lit with excitement. “This is a seven-speed Stingray!”

Much like the Kososkis, family after family has interactions, each unique throughout the rest of the evening. Some of the families are even showing cars.

Kurt and Teri Souva and their young daughter, Heaven, of Carleton, are here with their 1974 Grabber Blue Ford Bronco. For Kurt and Teri, collecting Broncos – they have nine – is a mutual love and passion.

“Some of them are mine,” Teri said. “We have a particular interest in the ‘66 to ‘77 body styles. We go all over the country to buy them.”

In addition to loving Broncos, Kurt works at the Ford Assembly Plant, which made all the Broncos from 1966-1996. And in a couple years, the plant will be producing Broncos again.

“I’m hoping to bring one of my Broncos to the assembly plant when they begin making them,” Kurt said. “That way when the first new one rolls off the line, they’ll also have one from the year it was introduced to put it next to.”

Showing that love of Broncos also helps strangers connect. Kurt and Teri begin to speak with Brian Gonyea of Newport, the owner of the 1976 Bronco, the same model Chris Kososki said was his mother’s dream car.

Gonyea, who seems to appreciate Broncos as much as the Souvas, is still amazed by how many people tell him they love his vehicle.

“I’m always surprised by how much attention it gets at shows,” he said.

Another surprising aspect of the evening is how much can be learned by just walking among the cars.

For instance: The reason so many cars have a matte finish is because glossy paint was more expensive in the early- to mid-20th Century. Or that women – not men as some might assume – own a good number of the cars being shown.

One of those women is Beverly DeVriese, who just moved to Carleton from Canton with her husband.

DeVriese is the proud owner of a 2006 Screaming Yellow Ford Mustang which, with its previous owner, won 10 show trophies.

“I wanted a show-car Mustang,” DeVriese said with a laugh. “And that’s what this is: a ‘show car.’ I can’t drive it in the rain or the snow or the anything.”

This evening was also the first time she was ever showing her car; the low-pressure aspect of the Car Cruise made it an enjoyable event for her.

“We’ve made Northside Bar and Grill our new hangout.” DeVriese said. “And I was nervous because I thought it would be all old cars. But then I decided ‘who cares?’ It’s just about having fun!”

Having fun is what most of the people who show their cars are aiming to do on Wednesday nights.

One of those people is Paul Ford, who has been showing his cars at Northside since their first Car Cruise seven years ago. On this evening, Ford is showing his 1954 Torch Red Ford Victoria.

Parked right next to the entrance of Northside Bar and Grill, his Victoria is the first car everyone sees when they pull in. Upon closer inspection, Ford’s love of one of the queens of the early animated screen, Betty Boop, is obvious.

The 1930s Jazz Age flapper is all over Ford’s hot rod, from the seatbelts to the windows. The Boop paraphernalia seems fitting for his ride, which also dons a pair of fuzzy dice from the rear-view mirror.

Though Ford likes to reminisce about his early years and “getting in trouble” with his friends, nowadays Ford’s life revolves around his duties as a member of VFW Post Honor Guard as well as his love for cars.

And his passion for vintage vehicles keeps him busy.

“I’m a member of the Monroe Area Street Rods Car Club,” Ford said. “We put on the car show at the fair as well as other shows throughout the year.”

Though Ford’s father is responsible for introducing him to his love of hot rods at a young age, he does believe the world of car collecting is changing.

“It’s an expensive hobby,” Ford said with a broad smile. “You don’t see a lot of young people getting into it.”

Photo by DANA STIEFEL A sampling of the cars at the Wednesday night car cruise at Northside Bar & Grill.

Photo by DANA STIEFEL Larry Olson, of Monroe, stands with his 1941 Willy’s at the Wednesday night car cruise at Northside Bar & Grill.

Photo by DANA STIEFEL Paul Ford with his 1954 Ford at the Northside Bar & Grill Wednesday night car show.