From the side of the St. Nicholas Landmark that faces the river, all you can see is the Mississippi and its perpetual motion.
It’s a view Thomas Mather, the early Illinois businessman, banker and politician knew well.
Mather built the first floor in approximately 1830 when the town was in the throes of expansion, and the riverfront was busy with commerce, and steamboats stopped for fuel.
According to the 1904 edition of the Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, when Mather moved to Springfield in 1835, the mercantile firm he was associated with reorganized into Mather, Lamb, & Co, established a store at Chester and shipped the first barrels of pork from Illinois to New Orleans.
When Mather died in 1853 his widow, Hannah, sold the Landmark to Joseph Beare. In 1892, the second and third floors were added when the building was transformed into an apartment building named the St. Louis Flats.
The Landmark would spend 53 years as a boarding house and hotel until it was sold in 1945 and became the Landmark Inn.
“Along the way it was a little bit of everything,” said St. Nicholas Landmark Manager, Brad Weiss.
“It was mercantile storage, a bakery, a hotel, an apartment building, and for the last 70 years or so, it has been where the people of Chester traditionally come for food or fare,” Weiss said.
Weiss, who began managing the Landmark a month after it opened, said that as he’s gotten to know the clientele, he’s learned that almost everybody has a story about the building.
“From their first bar fight to playing pool at a wedding reception, the people of Chester have a lot of memories associated with this place. A few months ago, an 85-year-old woman told me her husband had been born upstairs and then showed me exactly where,” Weiss said.
Weiss spent much of his career in the world of fine dining in Columbia, MO. A few years ago, after his kids left the nest, he and his wife, Jennifer, bought a house in St. Mary’s, initially to renovate it. But they fell in love with the property and decided to make it their home.
Weiss said he knew he’d made the right choice when he crossed paths with St. Nicholas’ Du Quoin manager, Abby Ancell.
“It was evident that this was a good fit, and so I came aboard. I loved what they were doing, both as a business and with the building. Tom Welge and Abby took this building and renovated it and they saved it,” Weiss said.
Tom Welge, president of St. Nicholas Brewery, along with a team of local investors, succeeded in preserving the former Du Quoin St. Nicholas Hotel in 2014, and reestablishing it as a thriving brewpub.
He and his team have worked their same magic on the almost two-centuries-old stone and brick building, replacing and repairing masonry, structural posts and beams, modernizing where necessary and conserving where they could.
The effect is charming. The first floor has several seating areas, a fireplace, a curvaceous bar, intact stained glass, an eclectic décor, partial river views and, of course, several bicycles. St. Nicholas Brewing Company is very serious about cycling, so much so that they have their own amateur cycling team. Even their logo is shaped like a bike sprocket.
“In the better weather, there are weekly group rides that leave and returns to the St. Nicholas Brewery in Du Quoin, and Abby and Tom wanted to have the Landmark be a place that’s hospitable to cyclists, so now we have a 5 p.m. Thursday night group ride that, in the good weather, leaves from and returns here as well,” Weiss said.
On the weekends, the upstairs is open for dining, and there’s a river view from any table in the room. There is also a fully stocked bar, and a dumbwaiter to lift meals swiftly from the kitchen below, ensuring timely service.
And if you dined in that room during any of the Landmark’s previous incarnations, you will remember the red glass lamps, now restored, which remain to give the room a warm glow.
“It’s a great place for a date night. On weekends we serve Prime Rib, but you can get a steak, or pork chops, any night after 4 p.m.,” Weiss said.
The Landmark’s menu has a great selection of pub food, including sandwiches and burgers. You can order a pint of bacon with your beer, or a glass of local wine with your salad. There’s a good kid’s menu, and enough of a gastro-pub flair to make the foodie in your life feel at home.
“Our pizzas are terrific, partially because we have an amazing sourdough culture, which is one of the most important things to have when making a great sourdough crust. Abby’s grandmother gave it to her more than 20 years ago, and she has kept it going,” Weiss said.
And what goes better with pizza than beer?
While the actual brewery is in the St. Nicholas in Du Quoin, their master brewer, Paul Plett, makes a weekly trip to the Landmark to bring new batches, or new brews, and to make sure the bartenders and the wait staff know a little more about what’s on tap.
The Landmark has four flagship brews: 7’11 Blond Ale, Cadence Porter, Peloton Pale Ale and Scotch Strong Ale/Wee Heavy — and another eight or so seasonal selections.
The Landmark staff also recently made a trip to the St. Nicholas brewery in Du Quoin for hands-on training.
“We carpooled and spent the afternoon at the brewery. We did a tour and some team-building, and it was really successful, and I am so glad we did it. Abby tries to keep both places connected. We’ve had some members from Du Quoin come here to help cover shifts. And it’s clear we are all on the same team even though we are in two locations,” Weiss said.
The Landmark also has plans to develop some outside seating to take advantage of the awe-inspiring view. The Chester bridge dominates the skyline toward the northwest, to the southeast there’s just more river, and occasionally, a train comes by to shatter the silence.
“I love this building. The view, especially from the second floor — it takes you out of the every day and just transports you. It’s magical being here on the river. There is just something so romantic about it. There is an industrial nature to this setting that reminds you this was a gateway to the American West for a long time,” Weiss said.