Gettin Goosed in the Windy City: A Dive Bar to Die For

Posted: May 28, 2011 by VT in Best Dive Bars: Trust Me ... I'm a Professional

Chicago, dive bar

I have high expectations of dive bars. As the divebardiva discussed in a recent “You Ask, We Answer” post, dive bars must possess the perfect magical mixture of ingredients to get it just right. If just one little thing is off, the bar doesn’t make the grade.

I was fortunate to visit a truly great dive bar during my recent travels to Chicago. And one of our goals here at Bar Trash is to give our subscribers the inside scoop on where to go to get that perfect dive experience. We don’t want ANY of our loyal readers to accidentally meander into a cookie-cutter establishment with fucking flair and frozen drinks. It’s unacceptable! And I’m throwing up a little in my mouth just thinking about it.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

I was staying in Wrigleyville and looking for a place to get a cold beer and watch the Cubs/Sox game. I wanted to experience a real Chicago dive with all the accoutrements … eclectic regulars, great history and a smart-talkin bartender. And I found it.

Upon entering Joe’s on Broadway, I was greeted with a large sign reading, “Sorry, we’re open.” A good start. I went to take a seat at the bar and was looked at skeptically by the motley crew of regulars. Another good sign. Tourists are a rarity at Joe’s.

I sat down, ready to order a Goose Island 312 (a local beer brewed in Lincoln Park) that I had heard so much about. But as I faced the bar, my stool slowly spun around and I was suddenly facing the door again. I then realized that the floor at Joe’s is on a slant — and keeping my bar stool facing the right way was going to be an ongoing challenge.

After maneuvering my stool to once again be facing the bar, I took a look around. The bar boasted a bevy of smart-ass signs:

  • If only closed minds came with closed mouths.
  • Our house wine is Jagermeister.
  • Kangaroos next 14 miles.
  • I (heart) Rainy Lake International Falls, MN.
  • If life gives you lemons, grab the vodka.
  • Be good or be gone.

And my personal fave …

  • Support your local bartender. I’m helping ugly people get laid.

chicago dive bar

The lovely barkeep on duty, Roger, came over to take my order. I requested the 312 on tap and wasn’t disappointed. It was ice-cold. 312 is an American pale-wheat ale, yummy and very refreshing.

Roger is a low-key, sweet teddy bear. We had a good conversation about the area and the bar’s history. Joe’s has been a Chicago institution for 40+ years. He told me that before it was Joe’s, the place had been two other bars. Basically, this joint has been slinging drinks for Chicagoans for the past 100 years. Wow.

Besides the smart-ass signs, the decor features a jukebox with classic rock, a dart board, and a mounted sailfish on the wall. There’s also a large hand-made sign in homage to the Cubs’ 1989 Eastern Division Championship. And a misspelled specials board, “Rumpelmize … $3.50.”

About that time, a college kid wandered in, obviously very out of his frat-house element. Roger asked him what he’d like. The guy then asked one of the stupidest questions I’ve ever heard asked at a bar:

“Uh … yeah. Do you have Bud Light?” (Really? There are fucking deer antlers over the bar. Yes, I do believe this particular establishment has Bud Light.)

Roger responded, dead-pan:

“Yeah, son. We also have Miller Lite and Coors Light. And Amstel Light if yer feelin fancy.”

I fell in love at that exact moment.

A little later, the kid asked, “Do you have a food menu?” Roger replied, “No. But I got beef jerky behind the register. Want some?”

The college student — who probably preferred jalapeno poppers — declined and left soon thereafter. I have a feeling never to return again.

About that time, the baseball game got very exciting. I found myself cheering as loudly as the locals (even though I’m not a Cubs fan). At the end of the game, I was high-fiving the other patrons and had a feeling that I had overcome their suspicion.

I went to Joe’s the next night, and what a difference a day makes. Upon my entrance. I was greeted enthusiastically by the same regulars. Roger had a huge smile, called me by name and pointed to an empty bar stool. I was home.

I have to say that Roger is one of the coolest dudes I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He’s not only an attentive server; he’s also extremely intelligent and carried on great conversations about a myriad of subjects. And he drinks tequila shots. Be sure to buy him one if you visit.

I’ve drank in dive bars all over this great country, and Joe’s is one of the best. I’m painfully sad that this gem isn’t in my neighborhood. I hope the regulars at Joe’s appreciate their good fortune. I have a feeling they do.

Grow old disgracefully,
Vodka Toxic

Joe’s on Broadway
3563 N Broadway St (between Addison and Brompton)

Traveling to New Orleans, Atlanta or the Big Apple? We have great recommendations for those locales, too. Check out “Trust Me, I’m a Professional.”

  1. divebardiva says:

    I am in love with this post, you and Roger. This is on my summer ‘list of shit to get done’ cuz I need to see this place for myself. On a sidenote…Rainy Lake is where we used to spend summers…coincedence…I think not.

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