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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bar #58: Kat Klub

6920 W North Ave
10:30pm, Wednesday, December 11
Price of Old Style: $3.25 bottles (not on tap)

So after an insanely long hiatus, Wednesday night found my brother and I together taking in the Q87.7 concert at the Allstate Arena.  We were there to see Queens of the Stone Age and QOTSA only, so leaving before the final band gave us a little wiggle room (with our wives).  "They don't expect us home later" turned into "let's try to knock out another Old Style Bar that is out of the way".  The only problem was it was -2 degrees out...who the hell is gonna be out in this weather?

Our first trip was to Heeney's on the 8200 block of west Irving lights on..."for sale" sign on the building...looks like another "RIP Old Style Bar".  Good thing I had a backup, and that place was the Kat Klub.  The only bar left in Galewood and around since 1980, the Kat Klub is the an oasis of a place right before you get to Oak Park, or if you are going east, heading into the chaos which is the North Austin neighborhood.  As we walked in, there were two regulars and a lone bartender, who turned and probably thought "who are these idiots coming here in this weather?"  We ordered our Old Styles, munched on some peanuts and immediately noticed their amazing Old Style Sign light on the back mirror.

Before we had finished our beers, we were deep in a "what have you had stolen while you've lived in Chicago" conversation with the bartender and regulars...shockingly nobody mentioned "priceless jewels", or "my BMW".  We have both had bikes stolen in Chicago...I guess that is a rite of passage, but luckily nothing else...  I really wish I could have stolen that Old Style sign, but maybe I should get back in touch with that Old Style rep.  Or maybe when we finally finish the Project, Pabst Brewing Company (who own Old Style and pretty much every other cheap beer your grandpa drank) will hook us up.  Gotta have goals!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bar #57: Carol's Pub

4659 N. Clark St.
1:00am, Friday, March 15
Price of Old Style: $4.50 / bottle

Carol's - the 4am/5am bar that's usually muttered in the sentence "Why in the f--k did I go to Carol's last night?" Carol's is not a bar that you ever make plans to go to...  Nobody ever says "Hey, let's go to Carol's tonight" at 5pm.  It's usually around bar time, and you have a limited number of don't want to go home, so it's "you want to keep drinking?  Me too! Let's go to Carol's!"

The exception is if you and your brother are doing a tour of Old Style bars and blogging about it, and Carol's just so happens to have an Old Style sign out front.  So we actually did plan on going to Carol's, but we still didn't get there until 1am early Friday morning.  Surprisingly, it wasn't crowded at all...there was a group of about 10 people, which we later found out were all co-workers celebrating someones birthday, and then a few random locals, and us.  

They have both kinds of music...

The bar seemed unfamiliar, but that's what happens when you see it sober for the first time.  I hadn't been here in ages...since my single days.  It was a lot dingier than I remembered...  It's kinda like the sledding hill you went to as a kid, and then you come back with your kid, and you're like "wasn't this hill a lot bigger?"  Yes...because you were eight!  It's a matter of perspective.  Just like when you are drunk, bars seem cleaner and beer tastes better and girls look hotter and karaoke is more fun and country music is awesome...  But that is what makes Carol's work...the karaoke on Thursday nights...and the live honky tonk music on Fridays and Saturdays.  It's unique...and after a few beers with some good's really really fun.

Unfortunately, this night was a little slow, so we had to make our own fun.  My brother is a musician, so he had no problem going up and singing some on the other hand, I'm more of a sit back and observe guy.  So, as I'm listening to the younger bro belt out "Easy Lover" by Phil Collins, I get approached by a guy asking if he could sketch my portrait.  And he would do it in 5 minutes.  Sure, I tell him, and then he creates this masterpiece:

Apparently I drink with my eyes closed

So now I'm just thinking of how I can convince my wife to get this framed.  Someday when we own a house (with a bar, of course), this is going on the wall.  Thanks again to Chris Wright, and to Carol's for finally giving me a experience at your bar I will remember!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bar #56: Max's Place

4621 N. Clark St.
11:25pm, Thursday, March 14
Price of Old Style: $1.50 on tap!

Sign don't's on tap and cheap!

Max's Place, like many Old Style Bars, is a survivor.  Many Old Style Bars are places that thrived during the 70s and 80s, but as neighborhoods evolved and gentrified, the neighborhood bar started to lose it's appeal. Max's, along with Carol's Pub up the street (post on them coming soon), we're a part of a lively Country-Western bar and live music scene that was on Clark St. from Montrose to Lawrence back in the 70's and early 80's.  Max's has been in the same family for four decades, and they have been able to keep customers coming in the door to this day.

We strolled in close to midnight on a Thursday night, and there was still a decent crowd there.  Definitely all locals...  We introduced ourselves to the bartender and she goes, "Hi, I'm Cindy" and looks down at her boobs, where "Cindy" is tattooed above her right breast.  Genius!  I mean, that definitely helped us remember her name...I think more women should do this and wear lo-cut tops :)  Cindy was great to talk to, and the Old Style was cold and cheap.  Not bad for early Friday morning!

Max's is an A+ dive (okay, maybe an A- because of the weird bathroom)...we had a great time and have an appreciation for places like this.  The people who own the bar and their employees love this place.  They love their customers and their customers love them.  It's truly one big family, and with the county music in the jukebox and the Old Style on tap, they aren't forgetting their roots.

Interesting bathroom mural

Bar #55: K's Dugout

1930 W. Foster Ave.
8:00pm, Thursday, March 14
Price of Old Style: $3.00 / bottle

K’s Dugout is a solid neighborhood bar in Chicago’s Bowmanville neighborhood. Bowmanville?  Yes, there is such a place...located just west of Andersonville, it’s borders are Foster to the South, Ravenswood to the East, Western to the west, and Bryn Mawr to the north.  The bar is situated about a block down from Amundsen High School, where I hear it’s a popular after school hang out for some of the teachers (CPS life is tough!)

It was quite busy for a Thursday evening, but K's sponsors a number of sports teams, does weekly trivia, has a decent pool table, pinball, and even Ms. Pac Man! There was also a Hawks game on when we were there, so it was a good mix of young people and regulars. Even with the crowd, we were able to get two seats at the bar, where we were greeted by the bartender, Patty. "First time here, guys? Thanks for coming in!" I was impressed...she was working her butt off behind the bar but still knew we weren't regulars, and didn't make us feel bad about it, either. We were able to chat with her a little bit later, and she said the bar is usually pretty crowded...they usually have something going on every night of the week. No wonder why she had a constant smile on her's nice to work somewhere where everyone is always having a good time - I know we sure did.
Even though we were rookies in the Dugout, we felt like we had been a part of the team for a very long time.

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.