The Neighborhood Tavern
Because in Chicago we like to drink with our elders.
The Time Out Sports Bar
By Chip Dudley
September 22, 2006
CHICAGO DOESN’T LACK for great
bars, from world-renowned
jazz venues like the Green Mill
(4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552)
to ancient neighborhood watering
holes like Hyde Park’s Woodlawn Tap
(1172 E. 55th St., 773-643-5516),
which has catered to U. of C. students
since 1948. Some places, however,
hang beneath the radar, an Old
Style or Schlitz sign their only calling
card. These, too, are neighborhood
treasures, serving up booze and bonhomie
to a clientele that, from day to
day, might only vary by a face or two.
Here are ten of Chicago’s finest.
1, 2. Listen to the regulars and
you’ll learn that once upon a time
there were bars all over the north
side catering to the southerners who
flocked to Uptown and North
Center after World War II to
work in manufacturing.
As the jobs dried up
most of the bars closed
wisdom has it that
only two remain:
Carol’s Pub (4659 N.
which has gained a campy
popularity thanks to gentrification,
and June’s Inn (4333 N.
Western, 773-463-3122), which has
not. June’s is dark and unlovely, but
the booze is cheap, the people are
friendly, and the jukebox is one of
the best in town, with Johnny Cash
and Merle Haggard sharing the bill
with R.E.M. and U2.
3. On an ill-lit stretch of
Glenwood Avenue between Farwell
and Morse, hard by the el tracks, lies
Duke’s (6920 N. Glenwood, 773-764-2826). Dank to the point of being
fetid, this pearl is for serious drinkers
only. Don’t barge in expecting to own
the place—keep your head low, have
a beer and a shot, and listen to the
old-timers talk about Chicago history
or maybe their most recent divorce.
There’s a dartboard if you get tired of
the alcoholic banter.
4. If you travel on Lincoln Avenue
chances are you’ve wandered past
Johnny’s (3425 N. Lincoln, 773-248-3000) without even realizing it was a
place of business. The only evidence
is the Hamm’s sign, and it looks like
someone forgot to take it down.
Johnny usually gets around to opening
by about 9 PM, and there’s no use
complaining about it. Don’t expect
anything except for Johnny himself
to be a bit crotchety, but do enjoy the
general emptiness, which is great if
you want to drink alone. The bar’s
also much cheaper than its gussied-up
counterparts up and down the
street, and the jukebox is nothing
to sneer at. Just be ready to
go when Johnny decides
it’s closing time, which
could be any time at all.
between the Loop and
the burgeoning tourist
mecca of River North is
Rossi’s (412 N. State, 312-644-5775), an old-fashioned
tavern in a sea of Hard Rocks and
Rock Bottoms. There you’ll rub
elbows with bike messengers, city
workers, the occasional suit, and perhaps
a Reader employee or two. Ask
for a martini and you might get a dirty
look, but otherwise the decent beer
list and surprisingly modern jukebox
make for a good downtown drink.
6. Cal’s (400 S. Wells, 312-922-6392) is a tiny beer-and-a-shot joint
in the South Loop favored by punks,
bike messengers, and traders who
lost their asses in the market before
noon. Cal’s Bukowski-esque charm
gives way to an even nuttier atmosphere
on the weekends, when live
music brings an even more
debauched crowd, but the prices are
much better than any you’ll find at
the restaurant bars in the neighborhood.
Yeah, you can still smoke.
7. When Second City set up
shop in the north-side neighborhood
of Old Town, the area was
full of dives and peep shows. Most
of the grit has been run off by condo
developers, sky-high rents, and the
general malaise brought on by
gentrification, but the Old Town
Ale House (219 W. North, 312-944-7020) has stuck it out, lasting
almost six decades. Genteel if
shabby, the Old Town has the kind
of off-the-cuff cool that only years
of service can bring. The comfy
stools and furniture are perfect
for lounging with a pint and a
newspaper or a paperback from
the bookshelf. Didn’t finish the
book? Take it home. Bonus: the
Pipers Alley movie theater is right
across the street, which makes for
an easy date situation.
8. According to its owner, Din
Papageorgakis, the Nisei Lounge(3439 N. Sheffield, 773-525-0557)
has the oldest liquor license in
Wrigleyville. The second-generation
Japanese, or nisei, who used to call
the neighborhood home have long
fled to the suburbs, but the bar
remains a blue-collar holdout in an
increasingly corporate neighborhood.
Dark and scruffy with an odd
layout thanks to a long-gone goldfish
pond, it’s hardly picturesque,
but character counts for a lot and
the regulars who more or less live
here would have it no other way. A
fine place to watch the Cubs without
having to deal with the yammering
idiots just up the street. Pool, darts,
and a great jukebox (Elton John,
Modest Mouse, and Sinatra to name
a few) complete the picture.
9. Just across the street from the
recently reopened Rockwell stop on
the Brown Line you can catch a game
at the Time Out Sports Bar (4641 N.
Rockwell, 773-583-4888). Less a
sports bar than a replica of your
uncle’s basement circa 1972—complete
with wood paneling, bright
lights, and 16-inch softball memorabilia—the Time Out is populated by a
balanced mix of old-time regulars
and recent arrivals to Lincoln Square.
After a few drinks it feels like a family
reunion, with the old folks looking
askance at the youngsters. Don’t
worry, you’ll be safe, and if you need
to make a quick getaway the train is a
ten-second trot across the street.
10. Finally, there’s the Charleston (2076 N. Hoyne, 773-489-4757).
This classic neighborhood tavern is
an oasis amid the gazillion-dollar
rehabs and new construction of
Bucktown. The antique bar back,
oaken beer coolers, live music, and
general old-timey feel go well with a
beer list that includes Newcastle,
Harp, and Guinness. Warning: the
owner banned smoking last fall in
anticipation of the impending citywide
ban, so you’ll have to hit the
pavement to have a drag.
Send a letter to the editor.