ST. CHARLES – Mark Davis was working Wednesday night as the doorman at McNally’s Irish Pub in downtown St. Charles when he noticed a familiar figure walk into the establishment.
It wasn’t until Davis noticed the guest’s lapel pin – featuring a prominent silver star – that he knew he had the right guy. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had arrived.
“He bought a few drinks; he took pictures with people,” Davis said. “He was very nice to everyone.”
Jones was among the NFL owners, players and union representatives who spent part of the week in meetings at Hotel Baker as talks continued in hopes of ending the NFL lockout. The sides were back in court Friday in St. Louis, but they arrived in St. Charles on Tuesday and stayed until Thursday morning.
Their stay was notable at the DuPage County Airport, McNally’s and Hotel Baker. Rowena Salas, the general manager of Hotel Baker, said it was a day she never would forget. Jones was joined at Hotel Baker by officials such as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, players association leader DeMaurice Smith and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Salas said both sides requested privacy, and she said she and the staff worked hard to make sure that was granted.
In fact, she said when her 15-year-old twin sons, Antonio and Emilio, asked her whether the NFL players or owners were staying at Hotel Baker, she couldn’t reveal it.
“They didn’t make us sign anything for confidentiality, but they requested that it be kept confidential,” Salas said. “We had to adhere to that and they were pleased with how we kept it so private.”
But Salas said Jones was looking for a place to listen to some music by Wednesday night. And since he noted that rumors already were spreading about the meetings, he indicated that he was looking to leave the hotel and asked for a recommendation, Salas said. She pointed him in the direction of McNally’s because there was a band playing there.
Shay Clarke, the manager at McNally’s, said Jones was “charming.”
“I looked at him, and I kind of recognized him,” Clarke said. “You just don’t believe it.”
Clarke and Davis said Jones made no effort to avoid the spotlight. In fact, they said, he was the life of the party. Within minutes of Jones’ arrival, they said, the place began to fill up as word spread. Clarke said Jones arrived at a little after 9 p.m. and stayed until 11:30 p.m.
“He was playing to the crowd very well,” Clarke said.
The experience began with their arrival at the DuPage County Airport. David Bird, the airport’s executive director, said private planes began arriving Tuesday.
“We didn’t know specifically who was coming in,” Bird said. “We knew that there was a plane registered to the Dallas Cowboys, but we didn’t know who was going to be on it. And we didn’t know who the other owners were until they were arriving.”
Salas said she was told that Hotel Baker was selected because an official had visited the hotel’s website and thought it would be a good fit. She said there was a great effort made to be sure both sides would have privacy. They dined at the hotel’s ROX City Grill, and Salas said there was so much concern that every window had to be covered.
But by Wednesday, she said some of the players were so comfortable that they were dining on the patio outside, without very much privacy.
She said those who were on the patio Wednesday were able to see the fire that damaged Salerno’s on the Fox.
There was still some buzz around town Friday. South Elgin resident John McIntosh was dining Friday afternoon at The Filling Station, where he was enjoying a live radio broadcast of WSCR-The Score’s “Boers & Bernstein Show.” Had he shown up a day earlier, he might have caught a glimpse of Jones or Smith down the street at Hotel Baker. But even if he had an opportunity to say a word to them, he said it’s unlikely it would have mattered.
“I don’t think they would listen to us,” McIntosh said.
Asked whether he was on the side of the players or owners, McIntosh chose a third option.
“I’m on the side of the fans,” he said.
Clarke and Davis said there was little talk of the lockout itself among those who encountered Jones on Wednesday.
“I know he didn’t answer questions about what was going on negotiation-wise,” Davis said. “But he was very nice to everyone.”
At Hotel Baker, Salas said the hotel’s staff members weren’t allowed at the private meetings.
“They didn’t share anything with any of the staff,” Salas said. “They were private, and we didn’t have the nerve to ask how things were going. That was really none of our business. But they were very complimentary of the staff and the service.”
It wasn’t as if the NFL contingent was the first group of celebrities to spend time in downtown St. Charles. The Arcada Theatre regularly books recognizable entertainment acts, and Salas says the likes of Davy Jones, David Cassidy and Richard Marx have stayed there. Rick Springfield has a favorite room, she said.
Bird said that the airport, too, has had its share of celebrities. Golfers arriving for a tournament in 2006 arrived at the airport, including Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Singer Elton John arrived at the airport for a show at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
But Salas ranked this as her most significant experience, perhaps because of the challenge of keeping the visit a secret and the fact that the NFL lockout is so prominent in the news right now.
“It was exhausting and exciting and something we will always remember,” she said. “It’ll go down in our books as one of the things that was very memorable at the Hotel Baker.”