Losing these Chicago bars and clubs was even more heartbreaking than when Cheers went off the air. We offer other taverns that scratch that same drinking itch
By Time Out editors and Joel Reese, compiled by Laura Baginski|
The lore surrounding some erstwhile Chicago bars and clubs is more compelling than the place itself ever was. There may be a little of that going on with these now-closed spots, but for the most part they live on in our hazy, booze-addled brains exactly as they were: Places that were exceptional at something, be it cocktails or, in the case of many dive bars, being endearingly, hopelessly dingy. Will there ever be anything like them? In most cases, we think we've found somewhat comparable spots to quench your thirst.
The Artful Dodger What it was: Divey and dodgey in all the best ways, this Bucktown corner bar in a residential area featured a small dance floor in the back where ill-advised moves were busted to ‘80s favorites. Many of the sugary drinks contained glow sticks. Despite efforts to save the turn-of-the-century building, the Dodger closed in 2005 after more than 20 years to make way for condos. What’s taken its place: Slippery Slope is no dive, but it’s one of the few places you can dance in the city without paying the crazy covers at a nightclub. Late Bar in Avondale is another.
Biddy Mulligan's What it was: Biddy Mulligan's was a seedy rock club on the northern reaches of Sheridan Road, just south of the cemetery that keeps leafy Evanston at bay. The club opened and closed a comical number of times, at one point re-opening for a whopping four months before shuttering again. Much like the oft-promised renaissance of Howard Street, a new, revitalized Biddy's was always just around the corner. But Biddy's did have an admirable history in the'70s/'80s—Koko Taylor played there many times, and Smashing Pumpkins rocked it in 1989. What's taken its place: The Simpsons' Moe's Tavern, if Molly Hatchet were on the bill.
The Big Nasty What it was: Mention the Big Nasty to any Chicagoan who went there and they'll undoubtedly respond with two words: "Silly String." Yes, the air of this bachelorette/frat-party-run-amok was filled with the scent of Paco Rabanne, Right Said Fred at eardrum-obliterating levels and miles of Silly String. (Hardly safe given the plethora of videos like this, but hey, this was the '80s and we were all incredibly stupid.) Utopia for any bro within a 10-mile radius, The Big Nasty was a miasma of recently graduated sorority girls and leering frat boys, all drunk and gyrating and horny. What’s taken its place:John Barleycorn after 10 tequila shots.
Bucket O’Suds What it was: Run by a hooch-making, jazz-loving, idiosyncratic second-generation bartender named Joe Danno, the Bucket was the coolest dive in the city for 32 years until it closed in 1996. Musicians like Urge Overkill, Chrissie Hynde and Elvis Costello visited the bar at Belmont and Cicero, perhaps for the liqueurs Danno made but most likely because of charming Danno himself. What’s taken its place: There was only one Joe Danno, and therefore only one Bucket O’Suds.
The Great Beer Palace What it was: Like rolling out the red carpet for alcohol poisoning, the Great Beer Palace rewarded the consumption of six half-pints of beer in one sitting with a free plastic Viking helmet and your Polaroid on the wall. You’d think that such a bro magnet of a gimmick like the “Viking Raid” (yes, that’s what it was called) would attract an obnoxious crowed but, while there was certainly some of that, the North Center location—in the ‘90s, that was the hinterland—and the fantastic selection of German beers kept the Keystone Light–seekers away. What’s taken its place: Also in North Center, serving German beer in boots and featuring an adorable beer garden, Resi’s Bierstube carries on the Teutonic mantle since the Palace closed in 2002.
Katerina's What it was: For 15 years, Katerina's was a Chicago jazz-scene institution, serving as a stepping stone for performers who weren't quite ready for larger rooms like the Green Mill or Jazz Showcase. Katerina Carson's intimate venue regularly hosted rising artists and local legends, attracting attentive audiences with eclectic booking, tasty Greek food and a solid cocktail list. When the venue closed earlier this summer, former employee Michael Polino announced plans to open a music venue and restaurant in the space. What's taken its place: Those with a taste for more experimental jazz will find a multifaceted lineup of shows at Constellation. Run by local musician Mike Reed, the space hosts everything from local improvisers to national touring acts. A strong candidate to replace the homey vibe of Katerina's is the recently opened Promontory in Hyde Park which has booked legends like Maceo Parker and Stanley Clarke right out the gate.
The Lyon’s Den What it was: Before it was the Globe Pub, and before North Center was stroller-pushing central, there was this dive bar that hosted live music and one of the best open-mic comedy nights in the city in its back room—T.J. Miller, Hannibal Buress and Kumail Nanjiani all performed there. The bar closed in 2004 to make way for soccer hooligans. What’s taken its place: Catch up-and-coming stand-ups at Comedians You Should Know, a Wednesday-night comic showcase in the back of Timothy O’Toole’s.
Lounge Ax What it was: The legendary Lincoln Avenue rock club was essentially a hallway, a low ceiling tunnel that amplified the small stage at the back to gloriously loud levels. The joint could get so cramped you'd seek the photo booth by the entrance for breathing room. Before the proliferation of midsize indie venues, this was the spot. In the span of one month of college we caught Elliott Smith, Archers of Loaf, Blonde Redhead and Neutral Milk Hotel at the place run by Jeff Tweedy's wife, Sue Miller. He'd pop up there frequently, too, up until the end in January 2000. What's taken its place: Lincoln Hall sits a few buildings down from this former spot, and books similar names, but that 500 capacity, balconied room doesn't quite capture the vibe as well as Empty Bottle.
Medusa's What it was: The place that made the Belmont/Clark corridor a goth haven, this club was birthed by Dave Shelton in the early '80s on the corner of Sheffield and School. It opened its doors for all ages from 7:30–10:30pm, before the dance owls swooped in until 3am, at which point each night the speakers blasted the grinding synths of Severed Heads' "Dead Eyes Open" as a farewell alarm. The nascent Smashing Pumpkins took the stage here in black capes, as did much of the local industrial scene. It may have closed in 1992, but you can still buy black leather and spikes on Belmont. What's taken its place: Dark disco is undead and well on Belmont at Berlin, especially on Wednesday nights, when DJ Pete Augusta leads the weekly Static party, spinning tributes to the Cure and other sun-adverse classics.
Pepper's Hideout What it was: The blues clubs of today are as much of a museum as a music venue. In the '60s, that wasn't the case. Blues could still take the public's conscious and booties by storm. Buddy Guy was a regular at Johnny Pepper's Bronzeville hotspot at 43rd and Vincennes. In 1971, the spot moved to 1321 S Michigan in the South Loop, where the debauchery of the disco era showed its influence in wonderful ways. There were talent shows and transvestite revues. On March 2, 1975, Pepper's hosted a "Bad Hobo Contest." The scene was captured by Evanston photographer Michael Abramson in lively black and white, as collected in the Light on the South Side coffee table book by the Numero Group. What's taken its place: Those still seeking dusty grooves on the South Side should flock to get down at Joe Bryl's monthlies, Smokey Joe's South Side Soul Shack (first Friday) and Secret Disco (fourth Fridays), at Maria's Packaged Goods in Bridgeport. Tiny Lounge What it was: Every wonder why a bar that’s not so tiny is named Tiny Lounge? That’s because the bar, in its original location next to the former Addison Brown Line station, was really small. Like, a handful of half-circle booths in midnight-blue leather and a gorgeous vintage wood bar that sat maybe 10. And a weird back room with a couple seats where people made out. The dark, charming drinking den closed in 2006 after the CTA bought the land for the new Addison Brown Line station. What’s taken its place: Okay, the Tiny Lounge still exists, but the new space is as sleek and bright as the former space was shadowy and sexy. The cocktails are still great, though.
Trader Vic's What it was: Tiki bars experienced their first bout of popularity in the '50s and '60s, so when Trader Vic's opened in 1957 it quickly became the city's premier purveyor of island vibes. Located in the Palmer House Hotel, the Chicago outpost of the California-based chain served tropical cocktails and cuisine before closing in 2005 when ownership of the hotel changed hands. Trader Vic's returned in 2008, but the Viagra Triangle iteration of the bar failed to make waves and was quietly shuttered in 2011. What's taken its place:Three Dots and a Dash is essentially a direct continuation of Trader Vic's legacy, pairing rum cocktails with dishes like coconut shrimp and crab rangoon amid decor salvaged from the original Palmer House Hotel location.