EMBRACE THE CHICAGO DIVE BAR Life Isn't a Cabaret. It's a Dive Bar.
In a world of clubs, hotel rooftop bars and craft bar havens, sometimes it’s nice to find a place with dim lighting, scuffed wood and an outdoor sign that’s seen better days. I am talking about the dive bar! Even in 2017, where mixologists and brewers are treated like celebrities, there’s still room for the corner bar hole-in-the-wall. Here’s why.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a cocktail bar or place to get a shot and a beer, dive-bar prices rarely require a credit card. In fact, many dive bars don’t even accept credit cards. You aren’t paying for the vibe or the ambiance, and the juke box isn’t hooked up to the internet, either. You are basically paying for good service and good drinks—that’s it.
A lot of dive bars, like Nick’s Tavern in Lemont, have spectacular burgers. Beer, some fries or chips, and a delicious slab of meat on a bun. Maybe some wings, too. Nothing fancy, nothing pricey. Simple, cheap, good!
The Chipp Inn has been around since 1897, and the two-floor Liars Club is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman brutally murdered by her husband in what was the upstairs apartment. Meanwhile, serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy used to patronize Lakeview's L&L Tavern. In fact, it’s rumored that Gacy scoped out victims while at the bar. Creepy, sure, but decades later, it’s just an intriguing story (or I think so, anyway).
Big Joes has its turtle races. Old Town Ale House has its legendary artwork marked by Second City actors (who used to frequent the place) and political satire. And at Archie's Iowa Rockwell Tavern, well, this review found on social media should say it all: “Great staff, great prices. Cheese balls galore. What more could a girl ask for?”
Most dive bars have pretty rockin’ beer selections these days, as well as high-quality cocktails and wine. But, no one will shame you at a dive bar. Feel free to drink a $2 Hamm’s or $4 PBR with a shot of rotgut whiskey. Then again, if you want a $5 craft beer or cocktail, that’s okay, too. No one is judging you. Heck, no one even cares.
You don’t have to squeeze awkwardly between people sitting at the bar while holding your dollar bills out and begging for attention. A simple nod or the raising of a finger is the most you’ll ever need to assure your drink is on the way.
Come as You Are
Did you just work a construction job and are filthy? Come on in! Are you wearing a suit or a dress? It doesn’t matter. The only thing that might get you noticed at a Chicago dive bar is if you are clothed in a Packers jersey (and even that’s okay).
If you go to The Barrel in the Pilsen neighborhood, the bartender will shake your hand and introduce himself, and maybe a few of the people in the bar, too. You don’t have to be chatty, but there’s a neighborly camaraderie that exists.
Every dive bar is different, of course, but most of the people resting their elbows on the bar at the corner tavern enjoy a mutual understanding that day-to-day life can suck, which is why you walked in the dive bar in the first place. The dive bar offers a temporary respite from reality without emptying your wallet.