A reader writes:
At least on the north side, it's tough to walk more than a couple of blocks without running into a decent neighborhood bar of the type Avent describes. Damn good beer these days too. I moved here from DC about a year ago, and the ubiquity of great corner pubs with good burgers and friendly bartenders and a couple of decent games on the tube made for one of the nicest welcomes I've ever received in a new city.
Obviously these writers have never been to Chicago.
We have a thriving bar scene here, many of which fit the definition of pub as described by Avent. In particular, when he writes about bars where "kids were welcome during the day, as were dogs", my mind is flooded with images of bars I've been to in Chicago with exactly those traits, not to mention individual character, room for seating during all but the busiest weekend nights, and surprisingly good food. Sure, we have a lot of other types of bars and clubs as well (from dives to douche-y clubs to sports bars to bachelorette destinations to hotel bars etc), but as Avent describes them, we also have a great bounty of "pubs" in Chicago.
This also gives me a chance to revisit a favourite snippet of This American Life. Act Three begins at the 48 minute mark with an anecdote about a Chicagoan in New York. He explains Chicago this way: "Chicago is this wonderful dream land where there's a bar on every corner and...the bridges smell like chocolate."
Chicago is a great town for corner pubs. Not the Chicago that out-of-towners think of - Michigan Avenue, Grant Park, the loop - but out in the neighborhoods. There are pubs everywhere, many of them with excellent food.
This image shows a half-mile stretch of Irving Park Road in my old neighborhood. Note the English, Irish and German pubs all within a few blocks of each other. The Globe is packed on Saturday mornings with ex-pat Brits watching football matches. Great fun.
I'm sitting in a great pub in Chicago right now: the Duke of Perth. It's walking distance from my apartment, has wonderful Shepherd's Pie (though they assure me it contains no shepherds), Theakston's Twisted Thistle IPA on draught, and 90 varieties of single-malt Scotch. It also has no TVs, free WiFi, and two active fireplaces. Bonus: it's owned by a guy who immigrated from Scotland.
My neighborhood is full of pubs. In my leafy residential area (Ravenswood), there are least a dozen casual bars within 10 blocks of home. Not all are on the corner - some are mid-block - but they're quintessential neighborhood joints. My neighborhood is not an anomaly. Go to nearly any part of Chicago and you still see corner taverns.
In fact, the city's smoking ban was long resisted by Mayor Daley. His "official" basis was concern that corner taverns would go out of business if customers were not allowed to smoke. Post-ban, they're doing just fine.
I live on the North Side of Chicago, and I can think of five or six that I can walk to in less than fifteen minutes. Since the North Side is very demographically diverse, the pubs wind up having a wonderful "everyone's welcome" feeling. I remember one time when a bunch of folks from Genderqueer Chicago and a bunch of hockey fans happily hung out at the same place without the slightest friction.
Here in Rogers Park, the most northerly neighborhood along the lake, we have quite a collection to explore. From my front door it is exactly one block to our local bar. It is a warm, welcoming and gay-friendly bar where I can be sure to see at least someone I know every time that I walk in the door. Push the boundary to three blocks and you have six neighborhood bars, although it is the closest one that attracts our neighbors. When I visit friends in other neighborhoods throughout the city, I can count on a quick visit to their local bar or pub.
There are a lot of things that make Chicago different than the rest of America. This is one of those wonderful things that define life in the city. Once again, the rest of the country knows nothing about life in Chicago, but we have, throughout almost the entire city, what the rest of you are missing.
Just please don't all of you move here. Thanks.
(Photo by Flickrite Terence Faircloth)