1993 was a very big year for me. Sometime around April of that year I decided to move to New York and then I cashed in a pension plan, sold just about everything I owned including my car, my stereo, my furniture, my records and most of my clothing. On July 7th of that year I moved to New York City to pursue my dream of a writing career.
On December 23rd I flew back to Peoria to celebrate Christmas with my family. On Christmas Eve I met my friend Clare for lunch at Chili’s. Clare and I have been friends since the early ‘80’s and our lives have interacted and kind of run on a similar path and we wanted to meet and catch up on things.
Little did I know back then that I would repeat this for the next 25 years. Kind of my own personal Groundhog Day!
Let’s go back in time and take a look back at 25 years of Christmas Eve’s at Chili’s!
Chili’s: Christmas Eve 1993
As I noted in the introduction, my friend Clare and I have led similar lives. In the early ‘90’s she moved to Chicago and shortly after that I moved to New York in 1993.
By Christmas time I had settled in to New York and was chasing my writing dream. I had called Clare to see if she was coming back to Peoria for the Christmas holiday. She said she was and we decided to get together on Christmas Eve for lunch to catch up and compare notes on life. We couldn’t figure out where to meet and I don’t really recall how we decided on Chili’s, but I think we thought it would just be an easy place to meet and have lunch. Plus they have beer, so I was happy.
i remember both of us talking about living outside of Peoria and how we doubted that we’d ever move back.
Chili’s: Christmas Eve 1994 - 2009
Somehow this meeting at Chili’s became a yearly event for myself and Clare. And our friends Bebe and Toni started joining us around 1995 or ‘96.
By Christmas of 1995, Clare and I had been working on a fanzine called fishwrap, which ridiculed the world of mainstream magazines and media. I wrote most of it and Clare was the art director and she designed the logo.
The two of us would usually meet around noon and then Bebe and Toni would come around 1PM and the four of us would discuss what had happened through the year. While Clare and I were in contact regularly due to the fanzine, this would often be the only time of the year that I would talk with Bebe and Toni and it was always interesting to hear what they were up to.
One thing Clare and I talked about through these years was that we were both certain that we’d never move back to Peoria, Illinois.
Chili’s: Christmas Eve 2010
This is a banner year because it’s the first year that our Chili’s Christmas Eve lunch made it onto the internet.
I had stopped publishing fishwrap in 2001 and had written a book of true-life short stories called The Boy Who Would Be A Fire Truck in 2008. In 2009 I made the move from the world of print to the internet and started my first blog, The Marty Wombacher Show. This blog was a compleete and utter failure, but I learned from it and a year later in 2010, I launched my second blog, A Guy Walks Into 365 Bars. This one not only worked, it kind of exploded after it was written about in the New York Daily News and then picked up by the U.P.I. Wire Service and the story was picked up by newspapers all over the world.
Basically the blog was about going to a bar every day for 365 days in a row. When I came home for the Christmas holiday, the Chili’s Christmas Eve lunch was the first one to be documented on the internet. It was bar number 349 and below is a photo of Bebe, Yours Fooly and Toni from that day. Clare was camera-shy back then! You can see the whole post by clicking here. Bebe and I are holding artwork that Toni gave us for presents that year.
Chili’s: Christmas Eve 2011
This was a strange year for both Clare and I because both of our jobs were disappearing. I can’t remember if Clare had lost her job at this point but the company I was working for announced they were moving to New Jersey which would’ve been a two hour commute by train for me and I wasn’t going. I was going to be out of a job in about two months and was pretty nervous about the whole situation.
By this time I had finished my 365 bars blog and had been doing one called, Marty After Dark which had been another successful blog about going out after hours in New York City. With the impending loss of my job I was planning another blog which was to be called, Tripping With Marty and hoped that maybe I could make money doing that and would be able to live off of that. It was wishful thinking and at least I still had my dreams!
Chilis: Christmas Eve 2012
As I noted at the beginning of this post, 1993 was a memorable year for me because I moved to New York and started a new chapter in my life out there.
That chapter lasted for 19 years and on October 18th, 2012 a new chapter had started for me. I had lost my job that year and sadly I found out that I was probably never going to make a living blogging. So I did what I never thought I would do, I packed up my stuff and moved back to Peoria, Illinois!
I got a job and started a brand new blog called, Meanwhile, Back In Peoria... and happily it attracted an audience and if you’re reading this I thank you for being part of that audience!
As I wrote earlier, Clare and I kind of live bizarro parallel lives and she moved back to Peoria in 2012 too. We both laughed at our annual Chili’s Christmas Eve lunch about how we were back, but both of us were determined to make the best of being back here in P-Town and we’ve achieved that. So hooray for us!
Chilis: Christmas Eve 2013
This was a bittersweet Christmas Eve because it would be the last one our friend Toni would be at. Toni had gotten sick with Leukemia and was going through chemotherapy. I hadn’t seen her since she’d been sick and got in touch with her to see if she could make the annual Chili’s Christmas Eve lunch with Clare, Bebe and myself. She said she wasn’t sure because she had good days and bad days but she said she’d try.
She ended up showing up for the lunch and we had so much fun. I just remember the four of us laughing, talking about past memories and sharing stories. After lunch I remember hugging Toni and she said it was the most fun she’d had in a long time. I was really happy to see her smiling because I knew it had been a tough year for her.
That was the last time I ever saw Toni. She died on February 4th, 2014.
Clare sent me a text that night that said, “Toni’s gone.”
Me being the asshole that I am, I texted back, “Where did she go?” Toni would’ve laughed about that.
While I felt sad I’d never see her again, I was grateful we got to spend time together on that Christmas Eve in 2013. It was nice to have shared laughter, stories and to give her a hug before she died.
Toni was smart, pretty, a really nice, sweet person, a talented artist and every Christmas Eve I think about her.
Thanks for your friendship and fond memories, Toni.
Chili’s: Christmas Eve 2014 - 16
Clare was missing from these years because one year she had the flu and the other two she was out of town. I was sad she missed these years and it kind of wreaked havoc with my OCD, but what are you going to do? Happily Bebe still made it and we were joined by new attendees to the yearly lunch, Paul, Steve and Kathy and Amber and Joe. Below are three photos from those past years.
2014: From left: Steve, Kathy, Yours Fooly and Bebe.
2015: This is the biggest crowd we ever had! Clockwise from the left: Joe, Amber, Bebe, Paul, Yours Fooly (with blonde hair!), Steve and Kathy.
2016: Back down to four! From left: Bebe, Yours Fooly, Amber and Joe.
Chili’s: Christmas Eve 2017
Clare, Yours Fooly and Bebe: Together again!
Chili’s: Christmas Eve 2018 - The 25th Year - 13 Months of Chicken: Week Number 17
It’s hard to believe that this is the 25th year in a row I’ve spent at Chili’s for Christmas Eve! My how the beers…I mean the years have flown by!
Katy is our pretty server and she said she remembers us from years gone by.
Twenty five years after our first lunch here, Clare and I are back together at Chili’s on Christmas Eve! She got me three super-cool books for the occasion, thanks Clare, I love them and that was so thoughtful of you!
I knew I’d be putting up this silver anniversary post on the day I put up the 13 months of chicken posts, so I ordered the Honey-Chipotle Crispers and Waffles. I love chicken and waffles and this sounds like an interesting dish, so I ordered it up!
Here’s Katy serving up this week’s chicken entree! It’s their Chicken Crispers which are deep-fried boneless chicken chunks served on top of mini waffles and topped with bacon, jalapenos, onion and drizzled with an ancho-chile ranch sauce. It’s served with a sweet honey chipotle dipping sauce. Clare wondered who in the world thought this up and I told her it was probably someone who was very, very high!
Here’s the rest of the guests for this year’s Chili’s Christmas Eve, Kathy and Steve in the top photo and Bebe down below! Great to see all of them!
Bebe gave me a Christmas card which was sweet of her!
Chili’s, Christmas Eve, 2018!
I made some commemorative gift bags to celebrate the 25th year of Christmas Eve’s at Chili’s and here’s the three longest running attendees: Clare, Yours Fooly and Bebe! Thanks to both of them and everyone else who has attended the Christmas Eve festivities though these last 25 years!
Two and a half Dixie Chickens—They get points for originality with this but I think to truly enjoy something like this you should have a batch of pot brownies for an appetizer.
Related Posts: 13 Months of Chicken @: Shelton’s, Sky Harbor Steak House, McDonald’s/Chik-fil-A, Bernardi’s Pub, Harold’s Chicken Shack, Lariat Steakhouse, Donnelly’s Irish Pub, Thanh Linh, Grandpa John’s Rib Shack, Birdie’s Bar & Grill, Jalapeno’s Mexican Grill, Midway Duck Inn, Ludy’s Kickapoo Creek Saloon, Jubilee Cafe, Rizzi’s and Agatucci’s.