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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.