No $100,000 wine clubs in Springfield

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Guest, lawmakers and state officers attend a private, $1,000-a-plate dinner at the Illinois State Capitol Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Springfield Ill. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

Winnetka, meet Springfield.

Or actually, Winnetka/Central Park penthouse/$4 million Chicago condo/Montana ranch(es)/Park City, Utah . . .  meet Springfield.

Those are just some of the locales where Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois first lady Diana Rauner own property.

That has a lot of people wondering how much time the first couple will actually spend in our state’s capital, which lacks mountains, rugged wildlife, destination restaurants and, well, Central Park.

Rauner vows to live in the Governor’s Executive Mansion, something that hasn’t happened full-time since the days of former Gov. George Ryan.

“I’m gonna live there. Diana will live there,” Rauner said last week.

Throughout his campaign, Rauner warmed the hearts of Downstaters by pledging this move and promising not to operate the governor’s office from Chicago.

Most Illinoisans would jump at the chance to live in a historic mansion.

But the Rauners served “deconstructed Caesar salad” at one of their inaugural events. Tiger Woods’ ex-wife was there. Billionaires attended. Gov. Rauner has a parking space worth $100,000 in Chicago and belongs to a $100,000 wine club in California.

For the Rauners, it isn’t just the Executive Mansion. It’s house No. 10.

How much time will they actually spend in Springfield? Will they actually live there, shop there, or will they snub it?

A snub will stir up even more trouble than if they had just stayed out in the first place.

There’s an undeniable undercurrent from locals who don’t like people from up North who are just passing through, and pretending they’re better; holding up their noses.

There’s also, admittedly, an undeniable undercurrent from people up North who think they’re a bit more sophisticated; that their palates are more refined.

It doesn’t take long to sense this divide from just visiting. But I also experienced it from once living in Springfield, waiting on tables and attending school there after going to nearby Champaign for undergrad.

The biggest complaint you’ll hear from lawmakers, lobbyists, and reporters who travel to Springfield is there’s a dearth of places to find decent food and that the downtown rolls up the sidewalks seemingly, when it pleases.

Last week, when the name of a self-proclaimed higher-scale eatery came up, one lawmaker urged me not to go. He claimed the food sent numerous people to the hospital.

Locals there can have that same attitude. And even when you’d think merchants would welcome business because demand is the highest, the downtown is downright sleepy.

On the eve of the inauguration, two buses dropped off Rauner guests at a downtown hotel after a scheduled event concluded.

They streamed into a nearby bar. The place was packed. I looked around at all the high-rollers and thought, “man, it’s like printing money in here.”

What came next?

“Last call!” Faces looked stunned.

Was it their liquor license?

The bartender said simply, no, it was 10:45 p.m. and the place closed at 11. That was that.

The next night, I saw the sneer from a server at my hotel restaurant. Four reporters who were working during normal dinner hours arrived hungry, and initially relieved – there were several tables of people seated inside dining.

“Sorry, we stop serving at 9.”

It was 9:03 p.m.

“You can’t make an accommodation?” I pleaded. “It’s the inaugural weekend.”

The man looked at me with a side grin, as if he enjoyed this.

What a shame, there was absolutely nothing he could do.

It had been a long day all around, it was too cold to walk somewhere decent, and there wasn’t exactly a line of cabs outside.

We separated, and I went upstairs to my room and saw in-room dining was still open for 25 minutes.

I called and no answer.

I called repeatedly. Finally, I rang the front desk and asked them to transfer me.

That did it.

When I heard the knock and opened the door, it was a familiar face.

The same man who refused to serve us at the downstairs restaurant earlier was now bringing food to my room.

“I was about to close. You’re lucky I answered the phone,” he spat.

So suffice it to say that there’s a solid dose of this attitude with which the Rauners will be greeted.

Rauner is trying to fix up the governor’s mansion, saying it’s fallen into disrepair.

“I think it’s perfectly fine. Like I told Diana the other night, it’s better than my fraternity house,” Rauner said last week. “Diana is very concerned. It’s really tragic what’s happened. That’s the people’s house.”

He’s willing to put in his own money for the renovations or raise it from philanthropists, he said.

Lots of people in town respect that. But there’s also lots of Illinoisans who would love the chance to live in a historic mansion.

And they’d consider it a far cry from a frat house.

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