Theodore's ready to celebrate 30 years

Date: 7/13/2009

By Craig Harris

Special to Reminder Publications

SPRINGFIELD - With its mix of mouth-watering barbecue, fully stocked bar and great blues and rock bands, Theodore's has transformed a 100-year-old building, at 201 Worthington St., into one of Springfield's most happening nightspots. Preparing to celebrate its 30th anniversary on July 25, the club, which recently received a Blues Foundation KBA (Keeping the Blues Alive) award, has truly found the right formula.

"It's really an exciting place," Keith E. Weppler said.

Weppler is the Agawam-born restaurateur who, with Keith P. Makaroski, purchased Theodore's from original owner Theodore A. Rauh in 1999. "It's shown real staying power in being here for 30 years," Weppler said.

Theodore's had already begun building its reputation as a great venue for music when Weppler and Makarowski acquired it. "[Rauh] flirted with a lot of things over the years," Weppler said, "including local and regional music. He started doing national acts in 1993 or '94. Charlie Musselwhite and Anson Funderburgh were among the first. Luther Allison played the club around 1997."

In the little more than decade since, Theodore's has continued the tradition of presenting live music with a popular blues jam every Thursday and bands featured on Fridays and Saturdays.

"A lot of local and regional bands have played here," Weppler said, "bands out of Boston, Hartford and New York City."

Among the national acts that have performed at the club include John Mayer, Cracker, Nils Lofgrin, and blues artists like Rod Piazza, Shemekia Copeland and Johnny Winter. "A lot of great stuff has come in and out over the years," Weppler said.

The music, though, remains only one key to Theodore's success. Their award-winning food is another. Their smoked baby back ribs with bourbon sauce were recently nominated for the "Ultimate Hometown Grill Off," hosted by the nationally syndicated TV show "Live! With Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa."

"I'm fascinated how Theodore's means different things to different people," Weppler said. "It's a rib joint to some, an after work meeting place for others. It's a live music venue. It's a place that has sandwiches for lunch."

Theodore's menu went through many changes before finding its niche with barbecue. "Roast beef and turkey sandwiches were on our first menu," Weppler remembered. "Twelve years ago, we started smoking our own food - ribs, pork and brisket. We've certainly hit our stride."