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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bar #19: Sportsman's

948 N. Western Ave.

8:45pm, Wednesday, July 13

Price of Old Style: $2.50 cans

The official name of this bar is the Sportsman’s Club. Yes, “club”. I guess Wednesdays aren’t popular with the members, because it was empty. The woman seemed surprised when we walked in, and she spoke even less English than the bartender at Gus’s. Then we notice "it", in the back corner of the room, with this amazing glow surrounding it…SHUFFLEBOARD BOWLING! I hadn’t seen one of those in years! I also wonder how many other bars have bowling…I only know of a few that even have regular shuffleboard.

So, the next half hour was spent bowling and drinking Old Style, while the older Eastern European bartender awkwardly hung around us, watching and enjoying our little competition.

Sportsmans was definitely one of the better “basement” bars in the city, meaning, a bar that looks like it could be your grandpa’s basement (or any basement in Wisconsin). Wood paneling, beautiful Old Style lights hanging over the bar, a nice long bar, dusty bottles of booze. We’re talking old school cool, and I hope the crowds are better on the weekend…this place is a real gem.

Bar #18: Gus's Tap

1013 N. Western Ave.

8:00pm, Wednesday, July 13

Price of Old Style: $3.00 bottles

Not much character to this place. A few regulars at the bar, two TVs, a cooler full of “packaged goods”. We tried talking to the bartender for a bit…all she really told us is that Gus is no longer with us. Didn’t really know who Gus was except he was the one that opened the bar back in the 50’s. We had our one Old Style in memory of Gus, and got outta there.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Liquor Stores of North Avenue

Wow - just take a drive east along North Avenue and you'll come across lots of Old Style signs, and some rapidly deteriorating neighborhoods...this one got interesting.

Crespo Finer Foods
2157 W. North Avenue

La Junquena Food & Liquors
2501 W. North Avenue

Latin Grocery & Liquor
3800 W. North Avenue

The TRIPLE!!!!

Cavito's Liquor & Food
3825 W. North Avenue

Red's Barber Shop
5005 W. North Avenue

What kind of barber shop is this? Do they sell beer too? Not sure I want to find out...

Lil Vegas Liquors
5118 W. North Avenue

Lim's Pantry
5820 W. North Avenue

I could not take pictures of the last two places...there were at least five people hanging outside each 7am. Were they gangbangers? No idea, but I don't think a white guy taking their picture would make them very happy. Thank you Google Maps...

H&H Cut Rate Liquors
5838 W. North Avenue

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bar #17: The Corner

12:30am, Thursday, July 6

2224 N. Leavitt St.

Price of Old Style: $2.25 pints

It was getting late, and we should have gone home for the evening, but we decided to fit in one more bar. The Corner is another deep-seeded neighborhood bar, on yes, a corner (Leavitt and Palmer to be exact).

We walk in and we hear Seth Rogan yell “What the f—k is up guys!”. Seriously, this guy sounded exactly like Mr. Rogan except 275 lbs and Hispanic. He was just as funny, too. “I’m bored…I hope this dude and his girlfriend get into a fight…” I guess he didn’t want to be working at midnight on a Wednesday. It was weird though, everyone else in the bar were couples. I guess The Corner is a good date place?

What really pushed him over the edge is when we ordered 3 bags of Jay’s BBQ chips, which were $0.30 each. “Why does the owner have these at $0.30 each!? It’s the only reason we have nickels and dimes in the register…dumbest thing EVER!”

We smiled, gave him a dollar, and told him to keep the change…

Bar #16: Millie's Lounge

11:00pm, Wednesday, July 6

1817 W. Wellington Ave.

Price of Old Style: $3.00 bottles

Common characteristics of many Old Style Bars:

· “Off the beaten path” – basically you’d never know it existed unless you lived nearby

· Open at 7am

· Regulars out-number non-regulars

· Sinatra or country on the jukebox

· TV’s showing regular shows, not sports

· Average age of clientele – over 50, including the bartender

· Most popular drinks are cheap whiskey, Old Style, Hamms, PBR

· Allows dogs

· Old Style sign over the door (duh)

At one time, Millie’s probably had many of these characteristics, but got new management a few years ago. Unlike many Old Style bars that have closed or are barely hanging on, Millie’s changed with the times.

When we walked in, there was a group of four at the bar, probably in their late 20’s. The bartender was an attractive girl sporting some cool tats, and they had an amazing selection of craft beers—all at great prices. She was playing some good music too, right off the iPod...I'm pretty sure I heard The Ponys and some New Pornographers... We had a few beers, played some darts (steel tips), and chatted with the bartender. She told us that she also works at The Mutiny, and the reason they took down their Old Style sign was that it was in bad shape and they were afraid it would fall on someone walking out of the bar. I guess that is a good reason, but I wonder what they did with it? I bet it would look great in my basement...

Millie’s is a solid bar…and if I was in Roscoe Village I would definitely be a regular.

Bar #15: Rose's Lounge

10:30pm, Wednesday, July 6

2656 N. Lincoln Ave.

Price of Old Style: $2.00 drafts

Rose’s Lounge should be called “Rose’s House” or “Rose’s Basement”. This is what a dive bar should look like. There were a bunch of couches in the front, creating quite the relaxing atmosphere. Ok, maybe this place should be called “Rose’s Lounge”. Couches everywhere. A pool table and old school jukebox, and behind the bar, a whole wall of kitschy things that could be in any Grandmother’s living room.

Rose is a very old and sweet lady. It took her a good two minutes to get up off her stool, shuffle over to the refrigerator to get 2 frosted mugs, and shuffle back to the taps to pour our Old Styles. You don’t go there for quick service. You many not even get what you ordered, but it’s Rose’s place and only Rose works there. I wouldn’t be surprised if people have done a few hours of drinking there, taken a nap on one of the couches, woke up, and drank for a few more hours. At $2 a draft beer, that sounds like a good, inexpensive day.

We didn’t get a chance to chat with Rose that much, but I hope she’s doing okay. She’s got quite a few loyal customers, and I feel that when her time comes, there will be sentiments similar to when Marie or “Marie’s Riptide Lounge” passed away earlier this year. I still think she’s got a few good years in her.

Bar #14: Nilda's Place

7:00pm, Wednesday, July 6
1858 W. Iowa St.
Price of Old Style: $3.00 cans

Nilda’s is one of those places that hasn’t benefited from the gentrification of Wicker Park. It’s in a tough location, on Iowa street that is just far away from Damen Ave and Chicago Ave that it could go unnoticed by residents who have lived in the neighborhood since it became the “hip” place to live 10 years ago. Face it, the action is on Division or Chicago, and if you’re not there, you’re in trouble.

We entered the open door with a little hesitation… No lights were on, a woman was cleaning up some wrappers from a take out meal, and there was tiniest dog I have ever seen scurrying around the place. Almost stepped on the poor thing. We asked if they were open, and the woman said “si”.

Nilda is a fascinating woman…here is what we learned in the course of drinking our Old Styles, in the dark:

· She came here from Puerto Rico and opened the bar 25 years ago and lives upstairs

· The neighborhood used to be real rough…there have been a few shootings mere feet from her doorstep

· The smoking ban really has hurt her business

· The dog’s name is “Cosita”, which means “little thing”

· When she spoke to us, she spoke English, but repeated many words in Spanish, and waited until we said them as well. Not being rude, but more of a “if you’re gonna drink in my bar, you’re gonna speak a little of my language, and I’ll help you”. I really appreciated it.

· Has 3 children and 5 grandchildren, two of which graduated from UIC and IU last year.

· Has three parakeets in a cage behind the bar

· Doesn’t keep set hours…if the door is locked, just knock. She may be curled up on the couch by the door taking a nap

· Five years ago she was offered $1 million for the building, and she declined. The building has recently been valued at $190k

· When she retires, she wants to move to Alaska

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bar #13: Rainbo Club

Wednesday, June 29, 11:30pm

1150 N. Damen Ave.

Price of Old Style: $3.00 tall boys

Rainbo Club doesn’t have an Old Style sign, but it is worth including in The Project. Everyone knows Rainbo Club by their neon sign, but when you have another sign that was made exclusively with Old Style, you get an exception.

The Rainbo Club has 4 things going for it: (1) the perfect ratio of seats at the bar, booths, and open space for everyone else to mill around; (2) a photo booth; (3) a great bar set up (see review of The Levee); (4) distinction of being a popular hipster hangout.

This place used to be one of the smokiest bars I had ever been in, along with Ronny’s and Glascott’s, but the smoking ban hasn’t really slowed this place down. It was packed at 11pm on a Wednesday. No TVs, no overpowering music…just a bunch of people having good conversation. An added bonus is the art gallery on either side of the front door. I am assuming local stuff, but in a great display area, and some really good pieces. We asked the bartender about the defunct stage behind the bar…he said that it was mainly for Polka bands that played there in the 1930’s.

Even 80 years ago the Rainbo Club (or whatever it was called) was cool…

Friday, July 8, 2011

R.I.P.: Czar Bar

1812 W. Division St.

The Czar Bar is a half-block west from Phyllis' Musical Inn. It's been closed for years, but the sign is still hanging there. Check out this great write-up on Czar Bar by Sean Parnell for his Chicago Bar Project.

Bar #12: Phyllis' Musical Inn

11:00pm, Wednesday, June 29
1800 W. Division St.
Price of Old Style: $3.75 bottles

We had planned on seeing some live music at Phyllis’s, but we ended up playing a game of H-O-R-S-E instead. The band that was supposed to play that night didn’t show up, so the bar wasn’t that crowded. The stage was a good size – they could definitely fit 100+ people in there for shows. There was also a Galaga and Ms. Pac Man machine towards the front. Arcade games while listening to live music...that sounds like a good Friday night. Apparently they sponsor a softball team, because there was a bag of bats in the corner...I guess that is one way not to lose them--keep them at the bar. The team was not very successful...there were only 3 trophies above the bar and the bartender told us that the players of Gold Star (bar across the street) come by every year showing off their softball trophies they win.

We sat at the bar for a little bit, there were only a few regulars there this night, including an older guy drinking a can of Hamms. Impressive… We also noticed there was only one beer on tap--Moosehead--which came out of a tap sticking out of a huge old blue cooler.

We then realized there was an outdoor patio, and walked out to one of the biggest beer gardens in Wicker Park. And, to top it all off, there was a basketball hoop attached to the brick wall. We hooped it up for a bit, but at 11pm a guy came out and said he was closing down the beer garden. It was Hamms guy! We complied with his request, understanding that it was late on a Wednesday and there are residences around the bar, so we went in and chatted a bit with Mike, aka Hamms guy. Mike is originally from Milwaukee, and has been running the bar for 17 years. He also told us Phyllis’s has been around since the 1950’s. Although we didn’t see it that night, the bar has definitely benefited from the gentrification of Wicker Park. The place is always packed on the weekends, due to the fact that the live music is usually free and they still have cheap beer (for the area). It seems like Phyllis’ Musical Inn will continue to be a Wicker Park fixture for years to come.