Thursday, February 07, 2008

My Favorite Bars

Having recently watched The Sound of Music (thanks, niña), I am temped to be ambitious and write this post to the tune of “My Favorite Things.” But I won’t.

I have not been inside a bar in 2008. Since the smoking ban, and my own personal efforts not to light up, I have avoided these old haunts, though I’m sure that’ll change before long.

Each bar one visits has its own personality and for this we either like a place or don’t, much the way we pick and choose (or don’t, though should) our friends. I list a few of my favorite bars in Chicago in no particular order.

The Red Lion. Where else to begin? I’ve made it my home away from home for the better part of, oh, twelve years. I may have strayed but I’ve always returned. The drinks may not be the cheapest (I usually start off with a pint of Speckled Hen and a shot of Makers and work my way down to the Pabst and Jack), and the place itself is (was, it’s being renovated) structurally unsound, but it is still the place I feel most comfortable wasting hours on drinks, banter, and whatever movie Colin the bartender decides to showcase. It might be the only bar in the area that does not play music so loud you can’t hear your companions. Hell, I’ve sat there and just read a book while imbibing. As much as I love the Lion, I fear that I will not frequent the place again when it emerges from its cocoon all remodeled and up to city code. It’s going to be very different, I know. The old fake pub is gone.

Delilah’s. Though I only get there once a year, I hold this place in high regard, even as, again, I feel that too much has changed for my liking. Punk Rock Mondays used to consist of a $2 Jim Beam drink and a $1 can of American beer (no longer manufactured). Now they raised the Beam price and god knows what they serve as an alternative to the old cans of cheap, yet agreeable, beer with an eagle proudly displayed. Every Thanksgiving I wind up there for Wild Turkey shots, and even those have risen in price. Granted, this is the bar for bourbon in Chicago and they have more beers than I’ve ever heard of, but I’m falling a little out of love with the hipsters and cloying art school crowd who still think dyed hair and piercings instantly makes you a rebel. The look is old and so am I. This bar always managed a mix of young punk college kids and aging hardcore/metalheads. I know which group I belong to, but I also know to leave the dark little vampire bar for the new crop of goth kids and burgeoning alcoholics.

Sovereign. Ah, the little bar that was across the street from my last apartment—always dangerous. I avoided the Sovereign for months because my dumbass roommate told me it looked shady and too full of Edgewater locals not in the mood for anyone under the age of fifty to cross the threshold. As is the case with many things, my roommate was dead wrong. Sure, the bar is a haven for some of the career drunks of Edgewater, and Sundays during football season are lively with their wheezes and cheers, but the place is taken over by college kids routinely around ten, at which point the jukebox predictably changes from Willie Nelson to the Pixies. Once I heard Outkast there and once the Misfits. Clearly whoever stocks the tunes is well aware of what to put on to ensure I’ll stay for one more round. I don’t get there as much since moving, but I’d gladly go again if only to try and win a free Pabst, which I’ve yet to do. All you have to do is guess the playing card number and suit on the underside of the bottle cap. I came close once, guessing the eight of hearts (infinite love) when it was the eight of diamonds (infinite wealth—you can see which is more important to me). The bartender gave me the beer for half the price, which was nice, but I still want to win a free one. The quest continues.

Rose’s. There are many, many stories about this place. Oddly, no other bar in the city better defines my drinking life than this dive. I don’t know how to feel about that, I really don’t. I started going there as a DePaul student. Back then, every other outing there was fun, or so it seemed. You could go to Rose’s and have a great time, then go back a few days later and feel rotten, like a real failure. The bar is alcohol itself—sometimes it makes you giddy and sometimes it makes you cry. I did witness one brawl there over a pool game. That was memorable. And I used to go and listen to Rose’s son (whose name escapes me— DC and I always called him Petrov) wax philosophical. “People are always busy looking at TVs, they ought to try looking out their window sometime.” Deep, Petrov, deep. Rose had a bad run for a bit, and got a metal plate in her head after someone hit her with a beer mug. She wasn’t the same after (who could be?) but since then she’s been warming up and returning to her old cordial Macedonian self. I think Rose’s will always stay with me since it is the setting of the most devastating kiss I’ve ever shared. Nothing was the same after. I guess it had to happen there. The bar is a weird barometer of my life in the city.

I’ll stop the list here, though it could go on. Those are the important places, anyway. Other notable mentions would be the Old Town Ale House and the former Déjà vu, before it got sold, remodeled, and ruined. I never made it to Tooman’s much before it went the way of all flesh, and by the time I did it was no longer the bike messenger hangout. Everything changes.