OFFSTAGE: Toby Keith Shocks His Chicago Bar

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

Toby Keith’s latest official grand opening was Wednesday (Aug. 14). Actually, make that his official christening ceremony. At his I Love This Bar and Grill just outside of Chicago, that’s what Keith did. He picked up an old acoustic guitar on the stage, and said to the shocked-and-awed lunch crowd of around 200, “I’ve gotta christen this place.” And he went on to play three of his hits: “I Love This Bar” (with a few new, not-safe-for-radio lyrics), “Beer for My Horses” and “Red Solo Cup.”

Before the impromptu show, I had the chance to ask Keith about the place, which he called “the biggest frickin’ one we got.”

What’s your favorite thing on the entire menu?

The fried bologna sandwich. My mother fed them to us as a kid, so she’s responsible for that. That one’s pretty hard to beat.

What are other must-try items on the menu?

The ribs and chicken are fantastic. The bone-in rib eye is great. The barbeque sauce is fantastic. And each city has its own local flair that they add to the menu that I like to check out.

And do you check out the restaurants often?

Well, I go to the one in Oklahoma City more so than anywhere because that’s where I live. So if I’m downtown going to an event, I’ll cruise in there with friends and just kind of invade the place.

How’d you come up with the American Soldier Special?

That’s the cheeseburger, fries and a soda on the house for the military. When the first restaurant opened in Vegas, I thought we should have something to offer to the troops or any kind of veteran who comes in. We give thousands of those away every year in every location.

When you were a kid, dreaming of country music stardom, did you ever think you’d have a chain like this, with cheeseburgers and cocktails named after your songs?

No way. I definitely didn’t get into this business to open restaurants.