's grand re-opening weekend celebration turned sober for a few moments Sunday afternoon when Decatur firefighters put the flag back out in front of the Winnona Park institution.
Sniffles punctured the silence as the bar owner and staff, the landlord, regular customers and demolition and reconstruction teams watched Corey Jay and Deratae Harris go out on a firetruck ladder and hang a new flag over the door of the College Avenue bar.
Decatur Fire Department’s Shift C Capt. J.G. Meyers, who answered the call to the January 2009 fire that took the bar out of commission,
closed off a lane of College Avenue for a flag-hanging ceremony that evoked images of the firefighters at Ground Zero.
Sept. 11, said owner Alan “Doc Al” Czarkowski, was the perfect day to celebrate the community’s triumph over adversity at the Trackside.
The pub is a neighborhood institution where the regulars sometimes sing along with the David Alan Coe hit, "You Don't Have to Call Me Darlin' ." The Trackside also spawned the careers of the Indigo Girls and Edie Owen, the cigar-chomping bartender who went on to open on the Decatur square.
“This restoration was built out of love,” Czarkowski said. “We tried to recapture the best of the old and bring in some improvements. It took a long time, but it was worth it.”
Familiar things are still there, only better. The wooden booths and tables and mementos over the bar have been saved. The pool tables and dartboards are in familiar places.
Other things are nicer, like brick on the walls, wood ceilings, a removed wall between the bar and pool room, and expanded menu.
After everyone filed back into the building and the drinks started flowing again, Czarkowski returned the framed, self-titled “Indigo Girls” album to its place of display. The album went gold Sept. 11, 1989.
One regular, Marlene Garvey of Avondale Estates, said she didn’t realize the bar was open again till she happened to be driving by. The Brazilian native has been in the U.S. since 1998 and loves the Trackside because they are true sports fans, even of soccer.
“We came to watch the football game,” she said. “This has been so fun, so good. I’m happy being here, because this was part of my life and it came back again. I was afraid it wouldn’t happen.”
Recalling the attacks 10 years ago that day, she said, “I felt like they were my brothers and sisters. It was so emotional, for everybody, for the whole world.”
Medlock resident Sabah Ahmad, a Pakistani educated in Pennsylvania and Saudi Arabia, said Decatur is the first place in the country that, as a Muslim, he has felt at home.
“Decatur has a special place in my heart,” he said, before describing his experiences on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was living in Pine Lake,” he said. “My first thought when I saw on TV what was happening was, ‘What’s going on with my friend, Osman?’ He worked in the Twin Towers. I tried to call on the phone, and my heart sank when there was no answer.”
As it turned out, Ahmad did not lose friends and family in the attacks, but during his retelling of that day, tears came to his eyes.
Although he has been visited twice by the FBI and questioned, he says Decatur is a place of refuge for him.
“I’m here because I believe in this country, and I believe in freedom,” he said.
Stacey Albrecht hugged Ahmad. She was clearly thrilled to be back serving customers at the bar where she worked 10 years before the fire.
“I started here on Feb. 3, 2000, and I’m glad to be back – real glad,” she said.
For as long as they last, “The Track is Back” T-shirts are available, as well as commemorative bricks salvaged from the building.
A memento collection is under way for Trackside-related, train-related or Decatur-related items. They will be placed in two time capsules – a wooden box donated by Cynthia Heege or a larger one in the shell of the Jägermeister machine that went through the fire.
And, definitely, "You Don't Have to Call Me Darlin'" remains as the bar's anthem.