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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bar #33: Sovereign Liquors

6202 N. Broadway Ave.
9:00pm, Wednesday, August 17
Price of Old Style: $2.00 cans the Sovereign sovereign? In the realm of serving cheap beer, very strong drinks, and having the best jukebox we have seen so far on this journey? Hell yes. The Sovereign rules.

We walked in and had the pleasure of meeting Matt the bartender, who has worked at the Sovereign for the last six years. As the last of the regulars shuffled out, we were the only ones in the bar. After pouring us each a shot of Jameson, Matt explained that there usually was a lull after the happy hour folk leave and the younger people show up at night. It seems like they do a good job avoiding each other. He informed us that the bar is popular with musicians, artists, and writers, and many of them live in housing walking distance from the Sovereign. Based on how freely the booze flows here, it doesn't take long for one to find inspiration.

Before the Sovereign was the bar it is today, it was a deli/butcher shop. Currently, the back of the bar has a jukebox (more on that later), a cooler with interesting board games, and pool table, but in the deli-days, that area used to be a large walk-in cooler. It's boarded up now, but there was a secret door that was in the back of the cooler that led to the frame shop/art gallery next door. Hmmm...why would someone need to sneak through a cooler to the store next door? I think we might have to talk to the owner to get some more details on that.

Guess which two games I haven't played...

So about this's one of those small jukeboxes that doesn't take much space on a wall, but it was stocked with some great music. It was about 25% 70's rock, and the rest were mix CDs made by the Sovereign staff and regulars! My brother spent about 20 minutes going through the options, yelling "WHO is 'Packer'? I have to meet this Packer guy...he has the best mix CD's!"

Around 10pm the bar got quite crowded, with hipster-types, and some Loyola students, and some younger regulars, including Justin, who also bartended at the Sovereign but was just grabbing a couple drinks. Justin was a great guy who filled the Packer void and chatted with my brother about music and Old Style. We kept on Matt assured us that Packer would probably be in later in the evening, but we didn't see him before we left. Packer - who ever you are, we will meet soon!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

SIGN NO MORE #4: Granville Anvil

1137 W. Granville Ave.

Before we go to these Old Style bars, we usually do a little research...usually on Yelp. We were a little anxious about going to the Anvil, not because it was a gay bar, but because it was an "old man" gay bar that occasionally showed gay porn on the televisions.

We get to the Anvil, and no Old Style sign. Oh well. If anything, it would have made a good blog entry.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bar #32: Cunneen's

1424 W. Devon Ave.
8:00pm, Wednesday, August 17
Price of Old Style: $2.50 Old Style & Old Style Light (on special)

Cunneen's is named after Steve Cunneen, who opened the bar back in 1972. It's not a very big bar, with some tables in the fron windows up front and barely enough room for the pool table towards the back. The things that really caught my eye was the framed painting of the bar, the two chairs flanking the front door, and the impressive collection of vinyl that was behind the bar. No jukebox here - Steve and his bartenders play everything you hear, either from a record, CD or iPod.

After getting our Old Style's from Collette, a sweet bartender who's been there for years, we could tell it's a family bar. No, there weren't little kids running around everywhere. What I mean is that the people in this bar are a true family... There were two couples in the 40s-50s playing cards at one of the front tables. Many of the bartenders have been there over 20 seemed like everyone was on a first name basis. I was later informed that another couple who was there is documented in a picture on the wall of them dancing on the bar at Cunneen's back in the 70's.

We chatted with a gentleman about the intriguing clock behind the bar that was adorned with the face of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, with a different, smaller clock underneath with his son's face on it. The man was convinced that the mayor handed out the clocks to city bars during his re-election years. Sounds like a great idea, but probably illegal. A great write-up on Cunneen's history by one of it's bartenders de-bunked that theory. The history of the clocks aside, the unique decorations got Cunneen's the "honor" of being in the Chicago Reader's "Best Of" issue this year.

After a little while we met Chris, who was one of the younger regulars, but had also designed the Cunneen's website...check it out. Also, he did some asking around and I guess the bars that have Old Style signs have to pay about $500 a year in insurance and permits just to keep them up! These are the kind of people we like running into...the ones who can get us information... thanks Chris! We're hoping to get back to chat with Steve one of these days, and I guarantee I will be drinking my Old Style in one of those comfortable chairs by the front door.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bar #31: Nisei Lounge

3439 N. Sheffield
10:15pm, Wednesday, August 10
Price of Old Style: $4 tall boys (every day)

The Nisei Lounge is a great bar. Period. Is it because we got free Old Style when we were there? Possibly. Is it because the owners are die-hard Cub fans? Sure. Is it because the Nisei Lounge has one of the most interesting histories in the 60+ years it's been open? Definitely.

The guys who run the Nisei Lounge get it...I think I like this place more for what they aren't than for what they are. What they aren't: the typical Wrigleyville bar...I don't need to get into details. Also what they aren't: a bar that feels like it needs to start selling the best craft beers to stay relevant. The Nisei Lounge still embraces what it has been throughout it's history. It has stayed in character all these years and let the neighborhood evolve around it.

The Nisei Lounge has been a staple in Wrigleyville for 60 years. The bar was named after the "Nisei", who are the American-born children of Japanese immigrants. Back in 1951, the bar opened mainly as a place that Japanese-Americans could meet without receiving any scrutiny, as feelings for the Japanese in the country wasn't quite favorable (Pearl Harbor) and vice versa (Hiroshima). For the next 50+ years the bar catered to the Nisei, Sansei (third generation), Cubs fans and the neighborhood regulars. The only thing more reliable in Wrigleyville was Yosh Kawano showing up in the Cubs clubhouse every day.

Two years ago, the bar was ready to close down...there were a number of newspaper articles written about it's demise, but at the last minute a couple of guys bought the bar and saved the day. The current Nisei is set up well and hasn't changed much over the years. The bar on the left still pours Sapporo on tap, serves $4 tall boy cans, and goes through as much Marlort as the Green Mill. There is a pool table in the back surrounded by tall tables, and real dart boards flanked by the restrooms on either side. When you walk in the front door, look for the "Memory Frame", which documents the bars near-demise and resurrection. They also have guest bartenders for charity every Thursday night.

The guys we met at the Nisei - Pat, Tim, and Doug, took care of us and spent a good amount of time talking to us about The Project. We really appreciated it, as they have helped spread the word about the blog. We taught Tim a new shot, and our friends Sarah and Mike got drunk. It was a great evening. Follow this bar on Facebook and's quite entertaining. Better yet, go to their bar. Especially if you are at a Cubs game...pass all those other places on Clark and look for the place on Sheffield with Nisei Lounge in neon and the Old Style sign over the door.

Now, if I was an experienced drinker in my younger years, I would have been at the Nisei Lounge all the time. Now that I am an experienced drinker, I have a wife and kid and am lucky to get out much at all. This is why we are doing this Project, tell you, the reader, about certain places that can't go unnoticed, that shouldn't be driven by. Cheers.

"Memory Frame"

Krausened Paper Towels?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bar #30 / R.I.P.: Margie's Pub

4145 N. Lincoln Ave.
9:15pm, Wednesday, August 10
Price of Old Style: $2.00 12 oz frosty mugs

Margie's is one of those bars that people refer to as a "dive bar", but it is hardly that. My first time at Margie's was when I was in my 20's, and the neighborhood along Lincoln Avenue has changed drastically in the last ten years. You still have some of the old standbys like the Bavarian Haus, Wild Goose, and the Grafton, but now there are a ton of new bars and restaurants that have opened up along that stretch. Margie's may still have some regulars, but on any given night they'll have a good crowd of younger locals taking advantage of the cheap Old Style on tap.

On the night we were there, it was how I described...decent crowd of regulars and nons, with Diana working behind the bar. Diana has been working at Margie's for 9 years, and as she was explaining the Chicago Gems t-shirt she was wearing, she mentioned that the last day of the bar was going to be Sunday.

Wait, WHAT?

Yep. The bar was closing. Di told me that Margie hasn't been coming around for a few years, and her son was running things. He told all the staff the previous WEEK that he was closing the bar the following weekend...not much notice for anyone at all, which is just cruel, to Diana and everyone else who had been working there for years.

Well, after that depressing news, we discussed Old Style with Jason, who I'm not sure what category he was in - regular or "younger local", but he was a nice dude and bought us a round. Then the tamale guy came in, which was perfect timing because we were just about to order a $7 frozen pizza...

Another example of "all good things must come to an end..." A picture of Margie's Old Style sign was recently used in an article about Old Style leaving Wrigley Field.

So, I went back to Margie's on Sunday, and apparantely the last day was Saturday, because the Margie's sign was down and the door was locked. The Old Style sign is still up! I knocked on the door and an older man answered...was this Margie's son? Nope, just another employee who got shafted and now was stuck cleaning up the place one final time. He told me it was a sad situation for everyone, because now he had to find a new job or file for unemployment soon. He said the bar was already sold to someone else, but he wasn't sure if they were going to keep it a bar or tear down the building.

And the Old Style sign? "I have no idea...whoever bought us's up to them. The sign isn't ours to's a part of the building and has been longer than Margie's has been here."

I'm gonna get to the bottom of this...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bar #29: Grace St. Tap

3759 N. Western Ave.
8:00pm, Wednesday, August 10
Price of Old Style: $3.00 tall boys

The Grace St. Tap is another example of an Old Style Bar that was resurrected from the dead. A few years ago, this place was called Sally's Lounge and was pretty similar to the Sunnyside Tap right up the street: old bartenders, old clientele, serving up not much more than bad whiskey shots and cheap beer.

Sally's was bought out last year and changed to the Grace St. Tap. They didn't do much to the interior, but made some great new changes - mainly improving on the drink/beer list and having 7 nights of entertainment. Apparently Raunchy Bingo on Tuesdays is a big hit. They also have shots out of shot glasses made entirely of ice...does that mean you can whip the glass against the wall when you are done?

When we there there on Wednesday, they had a decent crowd and an guy playing acoustic guitar and singing covers...he wasn't bad. At least he had a loyal girlfriend there taking pictures... Chris the bartender took care of us, and also told us about their $5 PBR and a shot special...hmmm, I guess you can't drink Old Style all night. My brother was the lucky one who did the shot of Jameson...

We had to leave a little early to head to the next bar, but when we drove by later in the evening the place was packed...not bad for a Wednesday. Maybe these guys should buy Sunnyside Tap and revitalize another dying bar...they're doing a great job so far...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bar #28: The Brewery

3848 N. Harlem Ave.
11:00pm, Thursday, August 4
Price of Old Style: $2.75 bottles

We were a little worried when we got to The Brewery...the front door was locked and we piggy-backed in after a guy who had to press a buzzer to be let in. Was this an exclusive place? Buzzing to get in? But, after all, it was pretty late, and I'm sure they had a good reason to double check who comes into their bar.

Once we got in, the first thing that caught my eye were the Lotto machines - scratch offs! You could also buy regular Lotto tickets as well...we went to the machine, got $5 worth and sat down. That was the next great thing about this bar...the most comfortable damn bar stools I have ever sat in...the bartender later told us that the chairs were referred to as the "Black Hole" because you just get lost in them and never get up. I believe it!

We were unlucky with our scratch offs, except for my brother, who kept on winning a free ticket off his $1's, and kept redeeming them for his buck until he finally won nothing. Oh well, I guess The Project wasn't getting fully funded this night.

Our Lotto purchases did get us to talking with the bartender, Joanie. She was excited about The Project, and also told us she has been bartending at The Brewery for 22 years, but has been hanging around the bar since she was a little kid because her dad was a bartender there as well. Her story reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Tender Bar...

Joanie graciously showed us the back room, which is available for parties, and the beer garden, which is one of the nicest in the city. It's a HUGE beer garden, and Joanie planted all of the plants & flowers out there. It feels like someone's backyard...such a great place. The Brewery, in general, was a great place. We were there at 11:30 on a Thursday, but it felt comfortable, like a place that we could hang out at anytime and enjoy a beer and good company.

I would compare The Brewery to one of our other favorite Old Style bars, The Levee. Very gracious bartenders, cool bar stools, a good amount of space, but still cozy and just a great neighborhood bar.

Bar #27: O'Malley's Pub

3215 N. Harlem Ave.
10:30pm, Thursday, August 4
Price of Old Style: $3.00 bottles

O'Malley's Pub is the antithesis of the Village Tavern. Hip-hop was blaring when we walked into this place, and it was definitely a younger crowd. The bartender was a younger guy, and he was doing some sort of weird dance for a group of girls so we decided to keep our distance and sit at one of the tables. Our buddy Joe the Cop joined us for a drink, and we just sat back and watched the scene unfold around us: guys desperately trying to hit on girls, rounds of shots being ordered, more bad music being played on the jukebox, lots of swearing.

If you are in your 20's and live in the neighborhood, this is a great bar...Village Tavern isn't for you. All the people in the bar were having a good time...even the three dudes sitting at the table staring at everyone.

Bar #26: Village Tavern

6912 W. Belmont Ave.
9:30pm, Thursday, August 4
Price of Old Style: $2.75 bottles

Upon walking into the Village Tavern, we hear Mr. Roboto was blaring on the jukebox: a good sign? Oh yeah... We bellied up to the bar at the only two bar stools that were open, and start talking to a guy next to us, Ralph.

Over the next half hour, we talked to Ralph about the neighborhood, Chicago parakeets, TV shows, movies that took place in Chicago, Ralph's awesome beach cruiser which was leaning up against the wall, and the Village Tavern.

Ralph was definitely a regular, but was very passionate about this place. He said it wasn't like the other bars in the could bring your wife to the Village Tavern and wouldn't worry about her getting hit on. It was a respectable place with respectable customers. It did seem like that type of bar, a decent blue collar neighborhood place that never has any trouble.

After we passed the "these guys are all right" test, Ralph told us he was a cop...hmmm, so that's why you had a fannypack? We knew lots of cops and firefighters lived in the area, so we weren't surprised. Ralph bought us another beer, and we talked some more, while more great 70's rock played on the jukebox. Ralph also confided that he was the one picking out the music, and we immediately bought him a beer before we had to leave for our next bar. It's the least we could do to thank him for his service to our city, and his hospitality at the Village Tavern.

Monday, August 8, 2011

R.I.P: ?????

3047 N. Kimball Ave.

Not sure what this place used to be called, but you can buy it for $139, much for just the sign?

R.I.P.: Belmont Tavern

3405 W. Belmont Ave.

Bar #25: Maria's Tap

5357 W. Belmont Ave.
9:00pm, Thursday, August 4
Price of Old Style: $1.00 12oz mugs (Tues & Thurs only)

As we were heading down Belmont towards Harlem Ave., we see it out of the corner of our eye: ANOTHER OLD STYLE BAR! And one that was definitely not on our radar--what neighborhood were we in? I did some research and it's in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood...I have lived in Chicago 12 years and have never heard of it.

We walk in, and the bartender is talking on the phone to someone (in Polish, of course :) ). She sees us, puts down the phone, gets our Old Styles and gets right back on the phone. There are 3 other regulars in the bar, just hanging out, not speaking to anyone. There is one older gentleman at the end of the bar who looks like he's either sleeping or dead (I apologize for no picture - I was a little nervous of the man sitting on my left). Anyway, we drink our beer, wave goodbye to the bartender and leave. Not sure the 3 guys at the bar even noticed we were there...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bar #24: Little Rascals Bar & Grill

4356 W. Belmont Ave.
8:00pm, Thursday, August 4
Price of Old Style: $2.75 bottles

Little Rascal's wears many hats: bar & grill, karaoke bar, sports bar, dive bar, melting pot. We experienced all of these except for the karaoke, which happens on Saturday nights.

The bar was surprisingly large, but everyone was at the bar when we walked in. A Chicago cop talking to an older woman who had her dog, Jasmine, in the bar as well. A middle aged couple, and a younger guy who was chatting up the bartender, who wasn't that busy. After a few minutes the cop was grilling the young guy, asking him what he's been up to. The guy tells the cop that he's been staying out of trouble, away from the gangs, and has a few job leads that look promising...

We finally got to talk to the bartender after a while...she was a young girl who couldn't have been more than 23 years old, and she was the only one running the bar. Renata moved to Chicago a month ago from Poland to live with her sister...she was able to find a job at Little Rascal's and works mostly days. I swear, 50% of the Old Style bars we've been to are Polish owned or have Polish bartenders.

Renata's friend asks for some food to go, so she goes into the back and pulls out some frozen french fries and chicken tenders. Dumps them into the hot oil and crisps them up perfectly. Renata is a month into the job, and she's already doing it all: The American Dream.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bar #23: Loafer's

2600 W. Lawrence Ave.

11:30pm, Wednesday, July 27

Price of Old Style: None (again!) - $2 High Life cans

We got to Loafers right before the skies opened again with the third insane thunderstorm of the week. There was a decent crowd, and everyone was DRUNK. Because it was raining so hard out, people were literally standing at the door smoking and blowing their smoke out the door. Unfortunately, no Old Style! WTF? And no PBR! $2 cans of High Life somewhat made up for it, but seriously...

After getting our beers, we hear one girl tell another: “you smell nice…like perfume and SoCo… I like it…”

There was also a guy whose normal voice was like Vince Vaughn at the end of Swingers

We unwillingly met perfume/SoCo girl who proceeded to tell us that she was a huge Steelers fan, had meet all the Steelers players, went on two dates with Robbie Gould, had a 9 year old son, and worked at two other bars in the city… She also told us that they guy sitting on her other side wanted to date her, but that wasn’t going to happen. Who did she end up walking out of the bar with, yep…that guy!

At least she didn’t leave with the guy who spent the entire evening at the end of the bar watching “Murder, She Wrote”. He even had the remote! I guess he couldn’t get Lifetime Channel at home…

I’ll give Loafers credit…it is a good neighborhood bar, and with the characters that were hanging out there on a Wednesday night, I would have no problem going back for more. Now if they would take care of that Old Style problem…

Bar #22: Sunnyside Tap

4410 N. Western Ave.

11:00pm, Wednesday, July 27

Price of Old Style: $2.50 bottles

See: Sportsmans Lounge.

Once again, we were the only people in the bar… The bar is run by a couple in their seventies or eighties, and they were just hanging out at the end of the bar, watching TV on an old 20 inch tube. The old woman got us our beers – at least they had Old Style – and went back to the end of the bar, not really in the mood for conversation. How do these places stay open? I couldn’t help but laugh at the old 80’s beer posters on the wall, and they even had a Spuds McKenzie poster behind the bar! The only redeeming thing about Sunnyside was the old school jukebox towards the front…don’t see those much anymore.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bar #21: Leland Tap

4662 N. Western Ave.

10:15pm, Wednesday, July 27

Price of Old Style: None - $3.00 PBR pints

The Leland Tap sits in the shadow of the Western stop on the Brown Line…attached to a liquor store at Leland & Western. It seems like a perfect spot for a drink after work, but alas, no Old Style. We get our PBR’s and notice the sign along the entire back wall that reads:



You have to love a bar with humor. There was a good crowd, and it even had a little DJ booth in the corner, probably for the weekends. With any business, it’s all about location, location, location, and the Leland Tap / House of Liquor has that covered.

Bar #20: Western Tap

2044 N. Western Ave.

9:30pm, Wednesday, July 13

Price of Old Style: $2.25 bottles

Western Tap had the same characteristics as the other two Old Style bars further south on Western Ave. – dive bar, Polish owned, mostly regulars – but this place had something the other two didn’t have: a wonderful bartender.

If you ever are in the area, stop in and say hi to Joe. Or his wife. Or his good friend. They all work at the bar. Western Tap has shown how the neighborhood has changed from Polish/Ukranian to Puerto Rican/Mexican – Joe is Latino, as were most of the customers in the bar, but the bar is still owned by a 83 year old Polish lady.

Joe was truly happy about his job, and opened up about his life and family. Things weren’t perfect, but he was optimistic and grateful for his job, friends and family. We also asked him about the history of the bar and how the clientele has changed, and he just looked at us and said, “this is a bar for EVERYONE! My job is to make sure that anyone who walks in this bar feels welcome and has a good time”.

Job well done, Joe.