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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bar #54: CJ's (Connie & Johnnie's)

3745 W. Armitage Ave.
1:30pm, Friday, May 4
Price of Old Style: $2.00 12 oz cans

So after our lunch at Frank and Mary's Tavern, Mike the Firefighter and I decide to check out an Old Style bar that has eluded my brother and I at least a half dozen times.

We have stopped by this bar at all hours of the day, and it has never been open.  As we went by, we noticed lights on inside - victory!

We were the only ones inside the bar, which we found out closes at 8pm on most days.  Soon after a gentleman came in who was quite the historian of this neighborhood.  He and the bartender knew Warren and everyone else at The Levee.  Back in the 70's, there were over ten bars around Pulaski and now CJ's and The Levee are the only ones left.  Unfortunately, CJ's may not be around for much longer.  It seems like The Levee has done a better job changing over the year, and making the bar accessible to everyone in the neighborhood.  CJ's is mostly serving the same people it has over the last 40 years, and that number is dwindling.  When you close your doors at 8pm, you're not getting too many new customers, except for some crazy guys searching out Old Style bars.  And I think that CJ's is just fine with that.

Great poster of the 1986 Bears

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bar #53: Frank and Mary's Tavern

2905 N. Elston Ave.
12:30pm, Friday, May 4
Price of Old Style: $2.00 bottles

This is THE place to go for lunch.  Forget Hot Dougs.  Forget Kuma's.  Forget your Grandma's house.  The rotating lunch menu at Frank & Mary's blows them all away and is a also great deal.  I had the following plate and two Old Style's and it was less than $15.

Frank and Mary's has been at it's location on Elston Avenue since the early 1970s, and contrary to what you may think, Frank and Mary are brother and sister.  They are like the White Stripes of the dive bar world, except both Frank and Mary are important parts of the operation -- Mary cooking the food and Frank behind the bar.  Wait, you mean that Jack and Meg White weren't brother and sister?

I was joined for lunch this Friday by my friend Mike the Firefighter.  Unfortunately, Mary wasn't there because of some recent hip surgery, but her food was, and it was damn good.  We ordered the roasted pork with potatoes, gravy and steamed carrots.  As I mentioned before, this heaping pile of goodness and two beers was less than $15, and there is an option to order a half-plate as well.  They only serve lunch...usually from 11am to 2pm.

The crowd was made up of regulars.  Frank knew everyone by name (except us), so of course he engaged us in conversation, just because we were the newbies.  We had a good talk about the local baseball teams (Frank doesn't have a favorite) and then the phone started ringing.  Yep, to-go orders.  A few people came in soon after the phone calls to pick up their food (including a cabbie), and Frank knew them all.

Frank and Mary have a great business plan: keep it simple and be nice to your customers.  It doesn't get much better than this.  Frank and Mary's Tavern is a true gem of Chicago.

Bar #52: Question Mark Bar

6918 Grand Ave.
8:00pm, Wednesday, May 2
Price of Old Style: $2.25 bottles

The Question Mark Bar is about as west as you can get in Chicago before hitting the suburbs.  Located in the Montclare neighborhood, the Question Mark is the last stop on your way to Elmwood Park.  The bar was a lot smaller than I expected, a real hole in the wall with not much space.  There were a few video poker machines at the front and a jukebox in the back.  The crowd this particular night were lonely, middle-aged white guys ogling the attractive, middle-aged black bartender.  In between serving drinks she was putting up a killer playlist on the juke...all classic funk and R&B music from the 70's and 80's.  

After a few minutes another black woman walked in...she must have been a regular because the bartender brought her drink right as she sat down: tap beer with a bendy straw.  Then I see the bartender pour herself a beer in one of those medium-size gas station cups, also with a bendy straw.  Is there something I don't know about?  Also, the bartender's name was on the cup: Adele.  Not expecting that, either.  The questions were building up...

We sat there for two Old Style's, enjoying the music and the interesting vibe going on in the bar.  We even got to hear some Terrance Trent D'Arby!  We finally got a chance to as Adele about the origins of the bar.  "The name?", she said, "I have no idea...matter of fact, I don't think anyone knows...the bar has been here since the 40's.  I guess if we knew the answer we'd have to change the name of the bar!"

Bar #51: Jack's Stop Inn

5811 W. Fullerton Ave.
8:00pm, Wednesday, May 2
Price of Old Style: $1.50 12 oz mugs

WGN made a huge mistake when they put reruns of 30 Rock in the 10:00pm time stop right after the news.  Their failure was no more evident at Jack's Stop Inn, a decent blue collar bar in the Belmont Central neighborhood.  Let's just say that the humor of 30 Rock was "over the head" of the four regulars who were sitting at the bar with us, but the fact that the episode was a Halloween episode made it even worse.

"What the hell is this shit?"

"This show isn't even funny!"
"Where's 'Two and a Half Men'?"
"Larry, change the goddamn channel!"

I feel like this wasn't the first time this conversation happened at Jack's.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bar #50: Ski's

2959 N. Hamlin
8:00pm, Wednesday, April 4
Price of Old Style: $1.50 12 oz mugs

Our 50th Old Style Bar was a place called Ski’s.  If you go there expecting a lodge atmosphere, you’ll be quite disappointed.  This place is named Ski’s for another reason.  The great part about Ski’s is that it is a true dive bar, and a true Old Style bar.  The sign says it all!  It’s not positioned along a main street, but two blocks off of Milwaukee Avenue, just stuck in the neighborhood (similar to Millie’s and the Corner).  Walking in, my brother and I realize we’ve been to this type of bar before (Rose’s, Sunnyside Tap, Sportsmans), but for some reason, Ski’s seemed even more familiar to me.  The wood paneling on the walls, the lone pool table, and a few cheap liquor bottles behind the bar…this was my grandparent’s basement, reincarnated.  Until I was around 10 years old, my grandparents lived in a small house in Harvey, IL.  It wasn’t much, but my grandpa had his own bar in the basement.  Even back then I thought it was cool, and vowed to have my own basement-bar someday (still hasn’t happened yet).  The grandkids weren’t allowed to use the cue sticks while playing pool, for fear that we would ruin the green felt top.  We had to roll the cue ball with our hands, and this is how I “shot” pool until I was in high school.

Ski’s was a little different from Bob’s Place (a.k.a. Grandpa’s basement).  He didn’t have Old Style or Okocim on tap (which were the only draft options), and his TV wasn’t on a Polish channel.  I’m pretty sure we were watching the Polish version of “How I Met Your Mother”, except their Robin was a lot hotter and blond.  The bartender was a sweet old lady who reminded me of my grandmother, but spent most of our time there in the back room talking to her husband (who did not remind me of my grandfather).  There were two other old guys at the bar, both paying attention to the TV and the bottom of their glass.  I am assuming that with it's proximity to Logan Square, this place may get a little crowded on the weekends, but tonight we were reminded of the past, and I almost wished we were asked to not use the cue sticks.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bar #49: Moe's Tavern (formerly Relax Lounge)

2937 N. Milwaukee Ave.
10:30pm, Thursday, March 29
Price of Old Style: $3.50 bottles

I used to drive past Relax lounge all the time when I lived in Logan Square, but it seemed like a shady dive bar, so I never went in.  Now that I have been doing this blog, I was excited to finally get to Relax,  but alas, it closed and now Moe's Tavern is in it's place.  Doh!

Nothing unique about this place - it's obviously a ripoff of Moe's from "The Simpson's", down to the Simpson art on the awning and windows.  They don't have Duff beer (actually a decent selection of craft beers), but you can order a Flaming Moe!

The interior is really seems like an office in a strip mall that was converted into a bar.  This couldn't have been how Relax was...Moe's was just very BORING and too clean--it had no character.  Christ, it had CARPET!  There was a cute bartender, but that couldn't help Moe's, as there were only 3 other people in the bar.

So, after doing some appears that Moe's was served with a cease-and-desist order from Twentieth Century Fox for copyright infringement.  It appears they haven't taken it too seriously, as some "minor" changes were made to the mural on the wall.  A great bar gets it character from it's bartenders, customers, and overall atmosphere.  Moe's has a long way to go, as the only character it has is in the form of a 20 year-old cartoon.


Bar #48: Goofy's Hock Shop

4369 N. Elston Ave.
10:00pm, Thursday, March 29
Price of Old Style: $2.00 bottles

Goofy's is another decent neighborhood bar, with nothing too exciting about it.  The owner's nickname is Goofy, and there is a lot of Disney memoribilia strewn about the bar...  The bartender was kind of a tough guy, so we didn't feel comfortable taking pictures.  One beer, and OUT!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bar #47: Mr. ZJ's Inc. (Podhale)

2924 N. Central Park
7:30pm, Thursday, February 4
Price of Old Style: $1.50 drafts

For some reason I thought this bar was called Podlasie, but that place is actually next door.  As we pulled up, we didn't see any sign other than Old Style and Okocim.

Then we get this gem on the window:

So, Podhale is the southernmots region of Poland, which actually includes the town of Zakopane, but that wasn't what caught our eye.  "Mr. ZJ"?  Who was that?  The running joke for the next 10 minutes was "if you don't know Mr. ZJ, you can't afford it..."  If you have no idea what I am talking about, shame on you, and here you go.

Inside, we were greeted by a wonderfully nice bartender who spoke very broken English, but attempted to have full conversations with us, mainly about the horrible weather Poland had been getting this winter.  After 15 minutes, she turned the TV to the Polish news channel, and something bad must have happened, because everyone (the other three people) were fixated on the TV.  We finished our 2nd beer and snuck out.

Bar #46: Ted's Place Ltd.

4425 N. Central Ave.
9:30pm, Wednesday, January 25
Price of Old Style: $1.75 drafts

After leaving K&H we went a short distance to Ted's Place Ltd.  Another neighborhood bar, and more pool, but this place had a completely different vibe than K&H.  Complete silence.  It was like you were watching golf.  We found this out the hard way as our conversation got a little loud, because nobody else said anything during a shot.  There were a few times where we had the whole bar staring at us with those "Shut the Hell Up" eyes.  It was an older crowd, but the intensity in the games was still there.

We were also a little confused as both teams had the same damn Ted's Place shirts on, but then realized that they were same shirts with different was Central Ave. and the other was Agatite Ave.  Whoa.  Crazy.  "Shhhhh....".  Ok, people, we get it...

Two guys walked out saying "let's go to another bar, we can't win here".  My brother and I walked about and pretty much said the same thing...

Canada has jumped on the lime beer bandwagon as well...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bar #45: K&H Lounge & Liquors, Inc.

3750 N. Central Ave.
Wednesday, January 11, 9:15pm
Price of Old Style: $1.75 taps

K&H Lounge looks like a normal dive in the Portage Park neighborhood, but on this Wednesday night it was JAM PACKED.  The reason?  Pool.  Lots of drunk middle aged guys yelling after every shot, high-fiving, and drinking cheap, cold beer.  These guys had their own sticks, and also had their women there to cheer them on and drive them home at the end of the night.  I'm pretty sure nobody noticed us walking in...we just sat at the bar and watched the evening unfold.  These games were so intense there were almost a few near-fights...I was really hoping for our first Old Style Bar bar-brawl.

It was so crowded, we didn't get a chance to chat with the bartender, and didn't want to talk up the locals...everyone was here for the pool, not to talk to a couple of newbies.  We did get a good laugh at the "siding" that was flanking the main door.  Very strange.  K&H is the ultimate neighborhood bar with a very solid clientele.  This place won't be going anywhere anytime soon...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bar #44: J&L Bar

3402 N. Cicero Ave.
8:00pm, Wednesday, January 11
Price of Old Style: $1.50 mugs

J&L, the bar with an identity problem...  On the outside awning, it says G&L, but inside above the bar it says J&L.  So which is it?  A quick scan of the billiards trophies tells us it's J&L, but what gives?  I ask the bartender and she says, "The owner is right there, you can ask him..."  I look down the bar and this 80 year-old man starts talking to me in Polish.  I smile and look back to the bartender and she says, "I think he changed his mind on the bar's name after the sign was already made.  It's named after family members, so maybe he didn't want to leave anyone out."  A likely story, but I think either the awning company screwed it up or the owner accidentally put a "G" instead of a "J" when he filled out the order.

Anyway, about the's a good size place, and advertises "FREE POOL EVERYDAY".  This area is a mecca for pool players (more about this later), and J&L had taken home a few trophies over the years.  The decoration is "Wisconsin Basement" meets "90's living room", with wood paneling on the walls, except for one wall which is all pink.  The bar top also had this weird mauve color going on...not very manly and very dated (like most Old Style bars).  Overall, not a bad little place on a real sketchy stretch of North Cicero.