Tuesday, January 17, 2006

FC4: Battle of the downtown dive bars

For the longest time, one of my desires has been to live downtown. There's something appealing about the energy from all those people, the traffic, the noise. When I travel, I enjoy hanging out in city centers. That's where the money is. Where the beautiful people hang out. Where the culture resides. I'm sure I'd feel differently about living in some loft space or high rise condo if I actually worked in the Loop, but as it is, I live and work far far north, almost in Evanston. A trip downtown is a rare and special treat for me.

One thing that's prevented me from moving to Printer's Row or wherever isn't the expense. It's fear. Fear that there wouldn't be anywhere to hang out after hours. Once downtown streets clear out at night, there aren't that many places to go where you don't have to dress up, where you can just hang with some friends over a cheap beer or two.

Still, some of the best dive bars in the city are actually doing business in the shadows of skyscrapers, you just have to stumble upon them. In today's episode of Forbidden Chicago, I present two bars I'd show tourists ... if I wanted to scare them with the truth about the city.

The champ: Cal's Bar
400 S. Wells
Bottles: $2.50.

A hangout for bike messengers and Metra commuters by day, a rock venue by night, Cal's is small and scary. A recent paint job almost makes it presentable.

On a recent Saturday evening, with the financial district in a coma, the Cal's staff opened up to sweep up the previous night's trash and prepare for another show. Bands from all over the country--and even from as far away as Australia--have played in the tiny space.

The challenger: Old Timers
75 E. Lake
Pitchers: $6

OK, I admit I don't know much about this place. But it's family owned and operated, like every great place should be, and one of the bartenders is very, um, big.

On a recent Thursday night, Old Timers was hopping with ... lots of old timers. Guys in dirty overalls mingled with guys in ties, and everyone there seemed to be celebrating somebody's birthday.


Blogger kevin said...

I might add the South Loop Club to the downtown dive list as well. Thought the floor there is not quite as sticky as Cal's or Old Timer's, the place has a distinct 1980's vibe and stands in stark contrast to other sports bars in the downtown area. Once you make it past the panhandlers outside, there are 60 beers to choose from inside.

10:27 AM  
Anonymous jodyla said...

There's also Alcock's (which is too close to Cal's to actually comment on the fact that it might be a "good dive" bar). So if Cal's is closed and you're in the hood, go Alcock's - not only is the food almost as good as it is at Cal's, but this is where the traders' who lose everything go!

And what about the Billy Goat? Too expensive? Too many tourists thanks to SNL?

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you could have picked a better picture of Old Timer's...... I know there were better pix.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous art attack said...

My vote would be for Cal's just b/c of the bands, even though it has been a long while since I have seen a show there. I'll try and keep an eye out for any other dive bars downtown and report on them as I see em.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Molitor said...

While Old Timers may not have live music as Cal's I bet there are a few forms of live entertainment for special patrons

4:24 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

dare i suggest Rossi's?
i know, i know, it's north of the river (barely!), but it's near my office and is quite a dive.

but yes, cal's is great. one day i want to go for lunch where they pass the sandwiches through the hole in the wall from the sandwich shop next door. :)

11:03 AM  
Blogger ap said...

Wow, looks like there are some bars to check out. Coming soon to Forbidden Chicago: Battle of the downtown dive bars, part 2: Alcock's vs. Rossi's. I've ever been to either, so it should be fun. As for South Loop Club, in my mind, that's a pretty classy place. When I did some volunteer work over at the downtown hostel, I took some visitors from Australia to that bar, and they loved it. They were fascinated by Americans' love of Bud, though they weren't all that fond of Foster's either. "It's the Budweiser of Australia!"

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

try the shamrock behind the Merchandise Mart

2:16 PM  

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