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Second Street Depot Bar and Grill opens

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When no jobs are available, you take your destiny into your own hands.

"We knew in July 2007 the VFW Club was closing," Connie Ling, bartender at the VFW, said. "I put my resume out there, but I didn't get one answer, not one."

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So Connie Ling began talking to fellow bartender Kim Sawicki, and they decided to pick up where the VFW left off. They'd start a bar and grill in the space vacated by the club.

The result is the Second Street Depot Bar and Grill.

The pieces began to fall into place, with a lot of cooperation. The VFW didn't close their bar until Nov. 15, and Ling and Sawicki were approved for financing Nov. 13. The VFW Club didn't move out until Dec. 1.

"The VFW was still here, but they allowed us to work on the building," Ling said.

Ling and Sawicki had a lot of work to do before a planned opening of the new restaurant Jan. 1. But they also had a lot of help.

"We had six weeks to get ready," Ling said. "And everyone pitched in to help. Everyone." 'Everyone,' she said, included family, friends and VFW members.

"It was great how people pitched in to help us."

In six week's time, the volunteers put in new lights and carpeting, added a dance floor, put in a brand new kitchen ... and so much more.

"We painted," Ling said. "And we painted ... and painted.

"We've got the same bar, but it looks good. We added foot rails. We modernized, on a budget."

And while they worked, they thought about a name. They thought about "The Depot," but realized that with the train depot just across the parking lot, that might be confusing. But something about trains just seemed natural, so they decided on "Second Street Depot Bar and Grill."

Jim Kuhn, VFW quartermaster, brought them train lanterns to hang in the bar. Someone got copies of photos of trains from the city's Pioneer Room. They're hanging on the walls.

And Sawicki's mom, Barb, painted a mural on the east end of the bar. It looks as if a train is coming right through the wall.

Above the bar is a train - a steam engine, coal car, three passenger and freight cars, and a caboose - if you look very carefully, you'll see they are really Jim Beam bottles. The train's on loan from Ling's daughter's father-in-law.

Even the beer has a "train" theme. On tap is a beer called the "Conductor." It's a pale ale from Steamworks Brewing.

The menu, too, has a train item or two on it. The depot burger is made with green olives, sour cream, pepper jack cheese and bacon.

The menu of the new restaurant has plenty of burgers, but it has a lot besides burgers. Ling calls it a "soft" menu, one they'll try until they see what people like and want.

There are salads; a portion of the menu is called "on the lighter side." There are the usual burgers and an array of sandwiches. Dinners include steaks, ribs and shrimp. It's the appetizer portion of the menu that intrigues people. Among other items, there are chislic - deep fried sirloin steak pieces - mini lobster tails and sweet potato fries. The soups and lunch specials change daily.

Ling and Sawicki want people to be comfortable in the new space. It's a space they've been comfortable in, Ling for 25 years and Sawicki for 12. Sawicki also worked as bar supervisor for Treasure Island. With their combined background in the bar (hospitality) business, they've worked hard to make the space comfortable for new and old (VFW) customers.

There's a game room with a pool table, darts, a Big Buck Hunter game, video games, a juke box, table-top games and a popcorn machine.

There's also a large back room, additional space for those eating at the new restaurant.

A rental space?

"We've already had someone ask to rent the back dining room for a groom's party," Ling said. "But, it's the way to the kitchen, so we're not sure how to go about renting it out."

"The teachers have always used it for meetings, though," Ling said. "I can't remember when they didn't. We'll figure something out."

Oh, and the bell above the bar?

"If a train goes by, there's a 50-cent discount on a drink, $1 if it's Amtrak," Ling said. "But the customer has to holler, 'train,' and we ring the bell.

The Second Street Depot Bar and Grill is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week, with food available from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Happy Hour is from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and tap beer is $1 from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Connie Ling, her husband, Joel, and their four children are Hastings residents. Kim and Mike Sawicki and their six children also live in Hastings.

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