Some of the best dive bars in the city are classic joints rooted in Chicago's neighborhoods.
To kick things off we thought it would be a nice idea to start at Clark and Devon in the city's North Side Rogers Park neighborhood. This particular tavern used to be owned and operated by my dad. It is, and always has been, a "working man's bar." It’s the way my late father wanted it -- in the family since the 1920s.
It turned into a restaurant during prohibition, then right back to a tavern as soon as prohibition was over. There’s nothing fancy there, one of Chicago’s old-time traditional taverns now known as "dives."
"A dive bar is a place you go and drink for cheap. They don't spend a lot of money on the decor, but is a place, especially in recession times, when you always know it's going to be easy on your pocketbook," Sean Parnell, of chibarproject.com, said.
Parnell knows Chicago bars: He runs the website Chicago Bar Project and he penned the book Historic Bars of Chicago.
"I think dive bars are kind of counter-cultural in a way, kind of alternative. They aren't the ones trying to make the most money off their patrons," Parnell said.
You'll find one of the best dive bars in the city on Clark Street in Lakeview at the L&L Tavern.
They have the largest collection of Irish whiskies in the city, and they are one of the largest purveyors of Pabst Blue Ribbon in Chicago. If you want something on tap, you won't find it there, but a PBR will only cost you $2.50. The owner said he doesn’t mind the “dive bar” label.
"It is good for me. Certain people like the dive-bar lifestyle. They like the lack of affectation and pretension of a dive bar. That they can enjoy the dive bar," L&L Tavern owner Ken Frandsen said.
A dive bar would be incomplete without a few shady or unsavory characters, but L&L has most beat. The place can claim hangout status, for a couple of serial killers.
"Gacy apparently came in twice in full clown, and we only recognized it after we saw pictures of what Gacy looked like as a clown. We're like ‘oh, it's that guy.’ And then Dahmer when he was here, he would sit in the corner over there, longing at the Dunkin Donuts parking lot. And when he was arrested we all went, ‘holy cow it's the creepy guy that used to sit in the corner over there,’" Frandsen said.
Our next stop also attracts an interesting clientele; tere, they see everyone, from police officers, to professors, to the president.
"He hasn't been in awhile since he's had his Secret Service with him," Cove Lounge Managing Partner Todd Sleeper said.
Yes, President Obama has been to the Cove Lounge in Hyde Park, a favorite stop for South Siders. Sleeper embraces its dive bar status.
"This is my type of bar. I'm a cheapskate in the first place. I don't like paying downtown prices, when you can get twice as much. A lot of times you're fighting to find a spot. This is just comfortable," Sleeper said.
If you're looking for dive in River West, Fuh-geddabouddit! Richard’s Bar is the place to be. A tribute to Italian heritage is proudly displayed on the walls, and don't let the grimy floors fool you, even Oprah has stepped into this joint.
The city's smoking ban has been in effect for a couple years, but they got a virtual 7-Eleven of cigarettes for sale at Richard's. Hungry? Not a lot of food, but they do have one specialty: hard boiled eggs for $.75.
How about their 98-year-old bartender? Lee Martin has seen it all; he's been serving up cold ones, for decades.
"This used to be all industrial around here, and I had my regular customers who came in for their shots, and we used to sell half pints to put in their coat pocket. That's no more," Martin said.
Martin had some great stories, including many we can't share on TV.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Marie's Rip Tide Lounge on Armitage in Bucktown. Longtime Owner Marie Wuczynski passed away two weeks ago.
Wuczynski died of heart failure in her home just above the tavern she loved. She was 88.
205 N. Michigan Avenue
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