Do you ever dream of walking into a bar, full smiles greet you, and before any words can even come out of your mouth, a cold beer — your usual — is set down in front of you? Old Town Tap and Restaurant, affectionately acronymed OTT&R, located in Downs, is that place.
As former Normal residents, my husband and I frequently travel through Downs on our commute to visit friends and former colleagues. As we passed through the small town during, we wondered what could possibly be the reason the main street is lined with parked cars. It’s OTT&R. On a Friday night, we decided to add our little hybrid to the mix and stop in. I was unsure of what to expect. We walked into a modernly updated space. Patrons packed around the bar, so we grabbed a table in the restaurant seating area. The server was quick to take our drink order and checked in frequently.
The tap list was small, but just diverse enough. My husband went with the Rigg’s Heifweizen, and I opted to try a house-made special, the Pink Popsicle (the server/bartender was incredibly helpful with making suggestions from start to finish of the meal). Made with two fruit vodkas, mixed with cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and a splash of lime soda, the sweet drink lived up to its name. The environment was jovial — we noticed our server bantering with people as they came and went — and she often didn’t have to ask someone what they wanted, signaling that they were frequent fliers.
OTT&R had a nice-sized menu, offering a variety of appetizers, salads, burgers, and sandwiches. They also have a more traditional dinner menu that includes meals such as rib eye, pork chops, kabobs, and salmon; daily off-menu lunch and dinner specials; homemade soups; and a salad bar. The shareables list is extensive and broken down by hot and cold. The selections varied enough for the veggies, like myself, and the carnivores, like my partner. We mutually agreed to go in on the carbs for this date night and got the pretzel sticks with beer cheese ($6). They came out quickly, served hot and buttery. They were dangerously good, soft and salty, and the bread was reminiscent of a croissant. The cheese served alongside was elevated ballpark cheese, exactly what you want to soak your pretzel in with each bite. Needless to say we fought over the third stick.
The restaurant had the Impossible Burger on the menu, but unfortunately were out, so I got the black bean burger ($6) instead. My husband was in the mood for chicken, and there were multiple meals with the bird (chicken Philly, buffalo-style, skewers, and pasta), but he settled on the chicken BLT ($8). Both sandwiches come with the option of fries or homemade potato chips. We each took one. He added the homemade beef and barley vegetable soup (+ $3.75) and I added the salad bar (+$3).
The black bean burger was your typical patty, cooked nicely on a toasted bun with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickle and served with a generous helping of crinkle-cut fries. I’m always a big proponent of house-made veggie burgers, but it was nice to have more than one vegetarian-friendly sandwich on the menu. Pro-tip, if you get an appetizer with cheese sauce, throw some of it on your burger and dip your potatoes in it. Extra yummy points immediately!
The fries and housemade chips were a little underseasoned, but perked up nicely with a smattering of salt and pepper. The chicken BLT was a meatier twist on the traditional comfort food. Savory grilled chicken paired nicely with the rich bacon, sweet tomato, and crunchy lettuce. The beef and barley soup was heartier than expected, with big chunks of beef in every bite. Generous amounts of barley and veggies accompanied the beef in a tasty broth, and if you’re anything like my husband you’ll be trying to get every last bit out of the bowl, too.
The highlight of our meal was the low-cost trip to the salad bar. The salad mix was fresh, the veggies were crisp, and it was meticulously maintained. I tried to keep it reasonable since I was only paying a few extra dollars for it, but it would be easy to fill yourself up on just one trip.
While chatting up the staff, we learned they offer brunch and a breakfast buffet on Sundays. OTT&R is active on Facebook, updating potential visitors with their specials and weekend events. It’s worth a stop if you’re driving between larger Central Illinois communities, especially if you’re on the road frequently and want to visit a place that will feel familiar.
Old Town Tap & Restaurant
209 S Seminary St.
Su 8 a.m. to midnight
M-Th 10 a.m. to midnight
F 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Photos by Jordan Goebig