photo: courtesy of Bridget Cicenia
Times can get tough. We have to wake up, eat and entertain ourselves, sometimes all in one day. So when we find a way to combine a few steps, it can make all the difference. We're not talking about Pert Plus. We're talking about our favorite spots to sip and snack (for free) around town—the type of bars that throw in a little extra with your well-grade whiskey on the rocks, and bar owners who acknowledge the plight of patrons with shallow pockets and empty stomachs. Though the snacks at these spots aren’t always enough to fill you up, they’re enough to keep you going. And for that, we salute the following:
Popcorn a Gold Star
The shrewd pack of aspiring alcoholics drifting into this amber-toned Division haven sure doesn't gather for the eye candy. But, it could be the free popcorn, which bartenders dole out and refill upon request, therefore helping many a loyal drinker gain a proper snack. Fit for "Saved by the Bell: The Unemployment Years," the set here includes some beloved proprietors and a picaresque cast of taletellers. Weekends usher in some club-going transients, but the meet market-less atmosphere tends to leave most of 'em nonplussed. Alas, the ambiance (or lack thereof) may not be for everyone, but at least the popcorn is!
Candy dish at The Burlington
The nicest thing anyone's recently done for Logan Square's burgeoning barfly population, this self-proclaimed "old man bar" is so happy you stopped by, it'll let you dip into the candy dish. In addition to bringing back bulk Brach candy, The Burlington also resurrects some sugary soul 45s on select DJ nights. Expect a good-humored and low-key vibe, with traces of complacency—embodied quite nicely by the retro, jury-rigged boom boxes so artlessly installed in the bathrooms. Once you’ve stuffed your pockets with caramels, don't forget to stow your coat away under the bench seats.
Peanuts at Cafe Bong
Nah, you won't find the wacky tobaccy here; but, we're happy enough with the tucked-away location of this karaoke dive, fiercely guarded by loyalists. Though the free peanuts are certainly a plus, there’s a lot of other stuff at work here—karaoke with a 50-foot-long cord being one of them. The much decried change in management has mixed up the pace a little, but the new faces running shop are pretty eager to make patrons happy, which makes your indignant cries for the old walls with peeling paint seem kind of silly. So, sit back, have a snack and sing a little Queen, why don’t you.
Beer nuts at Farraguts Tavern
A slightly divey little joint in Andersonville, Farraguts is a real nice spot with real nice people. It's dog-friendly. It's even got a payphone! As if all that's not enough, it's gone ahead and given you some free beer nuts, too. Yes, the simplicity of this booze and bitch spot is a welcome break from the patron-clogged haunts nearby, with simple touches, like strong drinks and plenty of seating, that make little-old-you feel like the staff might want you to stick around. The selection of 12 draft beers, including Stella and Floyd's ($2.50 on Tuesdays), isn't too shabby either.
Pretzels, cheese and etc. at Cody's Public House
With at least 50 years on you, this comfortable and classic tavern makes for good drinking, watching or sports talkin'. Pretty reliably, bartenders will serve up a grab bag of free snacks; they’ll also give you free reign of the grill out back, provided you supply the goods. If you’re yearning for a little more, Cody's also has quite the jerky selection (think venison, alligator and buffalo), as well as a beer garden with bocce ball courts and free darts. With a vibe reminiscent of college graduation parties, the crowd here runs from energetic collegiate kids to testy old-timers, but the mixed gathering tends to blend harmoniously.