What if I told you the best bar in the world was located under a particular overpass in downtown Chicago – where you would also be unquestionably considered an idiot by your peers if you parked just outside the establishment? Would you believe me?
Chances are, you said no. And there’s also a chance that you, the reader, are not of legal age to drink, and therefore do not have an opinion on the subject matter worth the barely stomach-able bottom of a pitcher of warm Coors Light on a Tuesday night.
But if you are of age, then please, keep reading.
The establishment that I speak of is none other than the original Billy Goat Tavern, located under Michigan Ave., and not all that far from some building owned by pretentious schmuck extraordinaire Donald Trump. Enough insults [for now], let’s get down to brass tax.
According to their website, the Billy Goat Tavern was originally opened in 1937 by Greek immigrant William “Billy Goat” Sianis after he bought the Lincoln Tavern for the price of $205. Sianis bought the property with a bad check, but because the business became such a quick success among the locals, he was able to make good on the debt with the proceeds made from the sales made opening weekend.
The tavern became a local success and became famous throughout the greater Chicago area after its involvement with the “Cubs Curse,” in which Sianis was ejected by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley from Wrigley Field for bringing a pet goat into the box seats during Game 4 of the 1945 World Series against the Detroit Tigers. Local lore states that upon ejection, Sianis allegedly placed a curse on the Cubs so that they would never win another pennant or take part in another World Series ever again.
While the “Cubs Curse” put them on the local radar, it was an early skit called “Olympia Cafe” on Saturday Night Live (SNL), featuring the likes of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman and Bill Murray, that made the bar famous across the country and made house slogans such as “Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger” and “No fries, chips” (spoken in a Greek accent) famous.
So, what is it that makes this bar so great? A lot of things, really.
Before you even walk into the bar, you can get a sense of just what you’re getting into – a wooden sign hanging overhead, goat paintings, and the immediate outward appearance of a dive bar. But when you take the chance and step inside, it becomes so much more. Walk inside the door of Billy Goat Tavern, and you’ll get an immediate sense of community and historical significance – something not a lot of bars truthfully have.
If you’re new to the joint, exiting locals will playfully try to trick you into ordering the fries as you’re entering – as if they somehow know you aren’t from around town. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t, but the sort of playful banter exchanged even if you fall for the trick establishes a sense of immediacy. If you know the SNL references and use them, the cashier will be guaranteed to bat a smile and nod of approval your way. But if not, come back the next night and you can expect similar friendliness.
For a town that is known for charging ungodly amounts of money for a drink ($6-$9 for a beer), prices at the Billy Goat are also amongst the best you’ll find in the city, with draft beer at $3.50 a pint. If you’re a gin and tonic fan like myself, you can also get a Tanqueray and tonic for $6, but with a highball glass half-filled with gin alone. You definitely don’t get ripped off on the alcohol here, and if you come back the following night, the bar tender is likely to remember you and get you your drink without question.
If you’re like me, though, the best thing about this bar is just the feeling that no matter where you sit at the bar, you know that at some point, Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd sat on that very same stool. And that, dear reader, is a damn cool feeling.
Now, I’m not saying that you should go to Chicago just for the bar. But if you do visit Chicago, pay homage to the one and only Billy Goat by getting yourself a double “Cheezborger” and Billy Goat Lager, and take in the surroundings around you. Maybe even spark conversation with an employee. You’ll be glad you did.