1734 W. Division St.
10:30pm, Thursday, October 20
Price of Old Style: $3.00 bottles
PART I - THE HISTORY
Zakopane, named after a town in Southern Poland, is the last true Polish bar standing on Division St. (a.k.a "Polish Broadway"), which at one point in the 30's and 40's was the hottest place in the city to catch live Polka music. Polka was HUGE at the time in Chicago, and one of the best polka musicians in the world, Li'l Wally, played at the bar with his band on a regular basis. This guy was so good, he was one of the first two people to be inducted into the International Polka Hall of Fame, certifying himself as the "Polka King of Chicago". The other inductee back in 1969, Frankie Yankovic (no relation to Weird Al), was the biggest Polka musician in Cleveland. He also wrote the song "Let's Go Go Go White Sox", but honestly, he's no Steve Goodman.
(Side note: Our grandfather, who was an avid Old Style drinker and Polka fan, gave my brother an accordion when he was in high school. After Frank Yankovic died in 1998, my brother wrote Frank's widow a letter saying he was a big fan. The woman sent Aaron a huge care package a few weeks later, with stickers and cassette tapes, saying she was so happy he had younger fans...it was awesome.)
Back in 1999, Chicago's favorite punk-polka band The Polkaholics played a legendary show with Li'l Wally back at Zakopane. Having retired to Florida, Wally came back to play this epic show, which was captured in a documentary. Zakopane rarely has shows anymore, hiding the stage behind a red curtain, but anyone would be luck to share the same stage as the Polkaholics and Li'l Wally.
PART II - THE EXPERIENCE
If you don't look high enough, you may miss the Old Style sign above Zakopane. It's actually hanging on the 2nd story of the building. What you won't miss is the Zakopane sign, along with the sign of the previous bar, Maria's Lounge...yep, that one is still up too. When you walk in, the bar is on the right and the jukebox on the left towards the end of the bar. Bathrooms are on the left and in the back is the aforementioned stage area with the red curtain.
The real attraction at Zakopane is Monika.
Zubrowka for a group at one end of the bar, then dancing with some shady old guys on the dance floor, and then outside having a smoke with some more of the bar regulars. The bar was packed, and she was gone for 5-10 minutes and people didn't mind waiting for her to get back to order their next beer. As she walked back in, necks turned as she went over and put in a bunch of songs on the jukebox. G'n'R...nice. The bar was hopping...it seemed like everyone knew each other and everyone was just having the time of their lives. This bar had the most energy of all the bars we've been to. If you walked by, you'd definitely say the bar was "hopping". Everything revolved around Monika...it was incredible. More people started dancing in the back as Guns n Roses turned in to Polish dance music...the place was up for grabs.
Li'l Wally would have been proud.