Rides & Destinations: Iron Horse Social Club & Museum

Pay a visit to the Iron Horse Social Club & Museum in Savanna, Illinois, on the Mississippi River.

Iron Horse Social Club & Museum

Photo by Dain Gingerelli

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The Skinny
What:
Iron Horse Social Club & Museum, 314 Main St., Savanna, Illinois, 61074, and other historic Mississippi River towns.
How to Get There:
From the north take US 20; from the east take US 52; from the south or west take I-80 to US 61/30; from a flyover plane, parachute down.
Best Kept Secrets:
To the north lies Galena, Illinois, which boasts many historic Victorian houses, and a few doors from the Social Club you’ll find another bike-themed bar, Hawg Dogs.
Avoid:
The yellow, diamond-shaped road sign warning “Watch For Motorcycles”; it’s posted right next to the cemetery — creepy.
More Info

Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin are sometimes listed among America’s various flyover states, stretches of real estate generally viewed from above. You get in a plane, and then you sit back to enjoy the ride, taking time to peek out the window as the plane inches its way across this great country. Your whole journey can be summarized in a simple phrase: flyover.

Or you can ride a motorcycle. That, of course, opens options to let you be more intimate with where you are and where you’re headed to, and also to experience the sights, sounds, even the smells of your surroundings. The result is pure motoring nirvana, because the ride justifies the destination, and the destination justifies the ride.

There’s another level of nirvana to be had while enjoying a two-wheel tour, and that’s socializing with people you otherwise might never meet. One such place to mingle with the locals is situated in Savanna, Illinois, home of the Iron Horse Social Club & Museum.

Savanna itself is a stone’s throw from the mighty Mississippi River. A motorcycle ride in and of itself along the famous Great River Road is worthy enough of time spent in the saddle, but since this ride is also about socializing with new and interesting people, let’s stop in Savanna so we can pay our respects to the Iron Horse Social Club & Museum.

The place’s name is slightly misleading because, in reality, this is a Midwest bar that also functions as a motorcycle museum — and as a tattoo parlor and wedding chapel. Yeah. Welcome to a rather unusual social club that was started back in 2001 by Jerry Gendreau, who also happens to be a motorcycle collector.

Gendreau’s original plan was to meld the bar business with his motorcycle collection, which resides in the rear portion of the old-time tavern. Walk through the front doorway and you’re greeted by architecture associated with turn-of-the-century (that is, the early 1900s) Americana. Sturdy barstools form a row along a solid-wood bar, and if your eyes happen to scan upward you’ll notice the classic embossed tin ceiling. Make your way past the various collectibles along the walls and you’ll eventually reach the motorcycle museum (but only after stopping to grab a cold one).

Gendreau maintains a rather eclectic bunch of bikes, too, including Harley-Davidson JD cutdowns, Indian bobbers, flat trackers, hill climbers and a few stockers, as well. His favorites are the hill climb bikes: “They’re like they really were; beat up and ugly,” Gendreau says. And even though none of the bikes are 100-point restorations, chances are you’ll enjoy a special high as you sip an ice-cold beer while viewing bikes and memorabilia tucked neatly inside this Midwest bar. It’s all part of that nirvana that you really can’t explain; you simply enjoy it during the moment.

Should you decide to stay the night in Savanna, ask the Social Club’s friendly barkeeps about renting one of the two suites upstairs. If they’re booked, try the L&M Motel on the other side of town; you’ll pass the county’s only traffic signal on your way there. The L&M advertises “theme rooms,” and one that might strike your fancy is the Harley Room, decorated with motif from The Motor Company.

Venturing farther down the road you’ll find Poopy’s, a quintessential biker bar with its own tattoo parlor. (Imagine, if you will, the ink artist inquiring over the din of the bar band’s rendition of Born To Be Wild: “Before I begin I’m just making sure — you said you want ‘America, Love It Or Leave It’ tattooed on your forearm, not your forehead, right?”)

Indeed, for a small town, there’s much to see in Savanna. In any case, start with the Iron Horse Social Club & Museum, and include a jaunt along the Great River Road nearby before hitting many of the other interesting roads in the vicinity. Flyover states? More like ride-through states. — Dain Gingerelli