A slice of bluegrass

Believe it or not, Dulono’s Pizza at 607 W. Lake St. could be the oldest bluegrass venue in the country.

The restaurant has been around since 1957, serving up Sicilian-style pies and frosty schooners of beer in a laid-back setting that feels like a cross between a VFW and a bowling alley bar.

Bluegrass bands play every Friday and Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to midnight, and motorcyclists congregate there on the first Thursday of every month. Staff can’t quite remember when bikers first settled on the spot, but talent booker Alan Jesperson can tell you exactly when the bluegrass bands arrived.

“It’s been going since 1971,” said Jesperson, a member the Middle Spunk Creek Boys, one of the 15 bands that play there regularly. “It’s the oldest bluegrass venue in the world. … There’s a place in Nashville called the Station Inn, and we’re much older than they are.”

The Dulono’s stage became a bluegrass mainstay almost by accident. Jesperson said he and a bandmate offered to take over the talent booking to route out some of the awful folk bands that had played there previously.

“We started booking it and got a bit of a thing going,” he said. “The music wasn’t that popular at the time, so we weren’t getting huge crowds.”

At one point, a manager considered ending the bluegrass nights until his daughter convinced him to keep the bands.

Jesperson said Dulono’s saw surges in attendance when Jerry Garcia fans learned he played a bluegrass banjo, and when the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou” came to theaters.

“They have been pretty patient with us, but right now, I mean that place is packed,” Jesperson said. “When our band starts, it’s standing-room only. The music starts at 8, and you want to get there at 7 o’clock to get a table.”

Bands play underneath an old-fashioned Dulono’s marquee. The walls of Dulono’s are covered with everything from Loon paintings to mounted fish models and neon beer signs, including one tailor made for Dulono’s. The back of the bar has a cooler of domestic and imported beers next to the classic “Grace” photo of a man praying before his meal.

As for the menu, Jesperson vouches for the burgers, which he says are “drop dead.”

Specialty pizzas are the most popular, said Manager Gail Stonemark, including a veggie pizza with garlic, tomato, mushroom, broccoli and spinach. The All-American Pizza comes with all the fixings for a cheeseburger, complete with pickles.

The thin crust keeps its crispiness underneath mounds of toppings, which can include sauerkraut on request. The pizza is well worth the mess that patrons are bound to make eating the square slices. The cartons of napkins come in handy at each table, as does the dim stained-glass lamps that keep the need for napkins less obvious. Other menu selections include lasagna, subs and sandwiches, barbeque rib tips, and buckets of chicken wings.

On nights when bluegrass isn’t on tap, entertainment is available from a large television in one room and pinball machines in another.

Dulono’s Pizza
607 W. Lake St.