Now that the NFL season is upon us, you may be wondering where in Wicker Park you can go to watch the game. Here are our recommendations for best places in the neighborhood to watch football games on TV.
Of all the bars in Chicago where you can watch a football game, Anthem is definitely the closest to Holiday Jones. That’s one thing it has going for it. A hard to believe fact about Anthem is that it’s owned and operated by the same hospitality tycoons that own Banger’s & Lace, the exhaustingly cool anglophile neo-gastropub across the street. Some of that coolness finds its way into Anthem, but for the most part, it’s a regular modern sports bar. A few highlights that make it worth going to are: the chummy staff, who seem more intent on catching a buzz than the patrons; the (weather permitting) sidewalk patio with accompanying outdoor TVs; and lastly, the fact that the bar is just one big room, so it’s easy to navigate when you’ve put down too many Eugene Porters and are trying to find the bathroom.
You know that scene in Something About Mary where Ben Stiller tells his therapist that he went to a highway rest stop and the therapists says, “you know rest areas are homosexual hangouts?” Like there’s this whole social subculture going on at a location people would least suspect, and most people don’t know about. That’s how Bucktown Pub is. For reasons unknown to this blogger, most of the crowd at Bucktown Pub are middle aged women and their dogs. You wouldn’t expect if from the outside. It looks like a regular neighborhood watering hole, but on any given night, you will find a disproportionate number of women over thirty-five and a pack of dogs. And not the cutesy diminutive breed of dog. These are the type of hulking canines that you would see on a Game of Thrones sigil. Aside from the unconventional sports bar clientele, our favorite parts are the free popcorn that come with a dusting of some curious powder, the expansive back patio furnished with picnic benches, and B.Y.O.F. (bring your own food) policy so you can get whatever grub you want delivered right to you (or do what we do and walk across the street for takeout from Pizza House).
Lots of places have food and drink game day specials, but nobody comes close to the one, two punch that is Cleo’s Pizza Thursday followed by Nacho Sunday. For football fans on a budget looking to fill up on food and booze, you will not find a better destination than Cleo’s. Their Wednesday special, $5 burgers and $3 shots of anything that starts with the letter J is also pretty terrific, but there’s no NFL on Wednesday, so it’s not being factored into this list. Know that you won’t find an extensive beer list or craft cocktails at Cleo’s. If you’re going, definitely take advantage of their discounted pitchers of domestic suds. But also take advantage of the food that is way better than you would probably think. Everything’s really good. One time, early in the NFL season, before we had accepted the fact that we would be packing on 15lbs by the time Super Bowl Sunday rolled around and were still foolishly resisting the urge to gorge on archetypal bar fare, we ordered the Spinach Salad, and it was as good, if not better, than anything we would’ve gotten at Sweetgreen.
We’re a little reluctant to put this place on the list because while Easy Bar has TVs, they’re usually playing obscure slasher movies from the 70s with the sound turned off. It’s rare to find a sporting event broadcast there, but when one is, it’s magical. That’s because Easy Bar is one of those unique bars that exists in the subcategory of dive bars known as “haunts.” A real dark, broken in, booze stained hideaway that is, sadly, increasingly uncommon in Wicker Park. The kind of public place where people that want to be left alone go to drink. Any sort of collective focus on a singular event, like a Raiders game induces the sort of unified experience regulars at Easy Bar shy away from. So when it happens, it’s like when you were on Christmas break in grade school and your uncle had too many eggnogs and let you drive his car around the block.
It’s the oldest continuously operating bar in the neighborhood. The mythology behind Lottie’s Pub is that it was started when Lottie Zagorski, a 6-foot-tall man transitioning to a woman, transitioned her neighborhood grocery store into an underground speakeasy during Prohibition. If you go there now, the underground basement area appears almost untouched, while the upstairs has been converted into a mainstay sports bar & grill with neon signs, dart boards, badger posters and a dizzying number of Christmas lights. Regular viewers of NBC pyro-drama, Chicago Fire will recognize Lottie’s as Molly’s, the gang’s fictional bar hangout. If you go, we’d recommend the Waffle Nachos paired with either a Coors Banquet or whatever their $3.50 special Beer of the Month is. Lottie’s also holds it down for Monday Night Football with $2 tacos, $3 Dos Equis, and $4 Milagros.
As far as sports bars are concerned, the name says it all. But why is that such a bad thing? We mean, if you’re going somewhere with the intention of getting drunk and eating hot wings, why are TVs everywhere with the sound turned up to eleven such an affront? We’re not saying Standard is the coolest or most exotic. That’s not what they’re aiming for. They just want to be the best place to down pints of craft beer, stuff your face with mac n’ cheese fritters and not make eye contact with other human beings. To that end, they succeed in spades.