One of the more colorful Lithuanian-American businesses in Springfield was the Cara-Sel Lounge, 7th and North Grand Ave., operated for 17 years by World War II veteran Tony Yuscius. Tony, who died at 86 in 2009, was the son of Lithuanian-born coal miner Joseph and Marcella (Radavich) Yuscius. After Joseph died of black lung disease, Tony’s mother Marcella and her many children fell on hard times. (The Cohen family, who operated a grocery, and later, The Mill tavern and restaurant, are said to have assisted Marcella–and many others–with grocery credit.)
The hard times known by many Lithuanian families in Springfield, generated by death in or from the mines, not to mention mass mine layoffs, led youngsters like Tony and his siblings to work from a young age to support their families. The same conditions led many to launch their own small businesses as soon as they were able.
Tony’s business opportunity did not come until sometime after he graduated from Lanphier and served in the U.S. Army in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre during World War II, earning three bronze service stars.
It’s hard to know how Tony got the idea for the Cara-Sel Restaurant and Bar– a play on the world “carousel–” with its colorful circus-theme décor and circular bar. (“Follow our bar round ‘n round—you will certainly find your friends here.”)
Tony and his wife Carol operated the Cara-Sel from sometime in the 1950s until the early 1970s. There were many neighborhood tavern and restaurant proprietors in Springfield during that period, so one can imagine it was a challenge to find a niche, to really stand out. After a more family-oriented start indicated by its circus theme and enlarged kitchen, the Cara-Sel hopped on the “mod” train sometime during the 1960s, with mini-skirted dancing “go-go” girls at night, like those on popular TV shows “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” and “Hullaballoo.”
The establishment really made an impression on those who still remember it today:
–“When I went there it was a nice place for a couple of girls to go, have some drinks and maybe meet a couple of guys. I also went there on dates, like after a movie.”
–“Go-go girls would dance on the bar, and in front of the bar—also in the back room.”
–“I used to walk by the Cara-Sel on my way to Edison Middle School, and then Lanphier High School. Recently, I found out that a girl I went to school with worked there in the 1970’s.”
— “When I was a boy, my father drove a truck and would arrive home on Saturday mornings, at which time I would accompany him to the Carousel (sic) for lunch. Late at night, there were cages and go-go girls, and still being in grade school, I would not have been welcomed. The Teamsters had their office directly across the street. One block to the east was the Pantheon Theatre, and next door was Palazollo’s Soda Shop, where all the Lanphier students gathered. Noonan Hardware and Ben Franklin Five and Dime were on the same block.”
–“They had a left-handed/right-handed drinking club. You had to drink with whichever hand (on the wall?) behind the bar was lighted. We paid to join and there was a fine for getting caught drinking with the wrong hand. The reward was a free eat and drink party once a year for the members. Neat place.”
In an ironic twist, sometime in the 1970s or maybe early 1980s, Tony and his wife Carol completely reversed direction, closed the Cara-Sel and opened the Northtown Child Care Center, a day care they operated for 20 years. Tony had two brothers: Stanley and John Yuscius, and five sisters, Mary Yuscius, Ann Asher, Josephine Pavletich, Ardella Dodd and Patricia (Walter) Bietsch.
His son, Tony J., a 1979 graduate of Griffin High School, is a second-generation entrepreneur as founder and president of another cutting-edge Springfield business, Advanced Digital Media.
Advanced offers video crews for hire, and more note-worthily, a website called blueroomstream.com that live-streams unedited coverage of virtually every news conference in the Blue Room of the Illinois Statehouse, as well as other political and government events, including some committee hearings and rallies.
Tony J’s innovative business grew out of his many years with the Illinois Information Service, helicoptering around the state at a moment’s notice with Illinois governors Thompson and Edgar, recording gubernatorial public appearances and speeches with his trusted minicam.
Tony also has a daughter, Susan Yuscius (husband, Larry O’Brien) of Springfield; three grandchildren, Jewel and Megan O’Brien and Tori Yuscius (Tony J.’s daughter), and several nieces and nephews.