photo: courtesy of Bridget Cicenia; Purdue fans at Durkin's on game day
With Chicago being such a popular relocation city for recent grads, it only makes sense that bars across the city claim allegiance to Big Ten teams—if by "across the city" you mean "in Lincoln Park and Lakeview." We can't control where these college-centric taps end up, but that doesn't mean we can't direct you to them. The first Big Ten matchups of the year are this weekend, and while only time (four quarters to be exact) will tell which teams prevail on the field, we've already picked which pubs make our playbook.
Iowa vs. Wisconsin: Four Shadows vs. Will's Northwoods Inn
Four Shadows is Chicago's Iowa-friendly corner bar with a ninja dojo name. (Wouldn't "House of the Four Shadows" make a great Tarantino kung-fu movie? We digress.) Its Hawkeye devotion equals $8 Miller Lite pitchers and $15 buckets on game day, so why are we deferring to Will's? Because when you wander in to the Wisconsin-themed pub, you might as well have set foot in Wassau. It's wall-to-wall Badger pride, combined with Packer power and Marquette appreciation, too. How can you not like a place that hosts the annual fishing-themed Musky Fest (complete with a Musky Queen!) and fills its menu with cheese curds, pickled eggs and herring and glögg? Our Scandinavian hearts take flight, football or no football.
Purdue vs. Minnesota: Durkin's vs. Red Ivy
The Golden Gophers just started their affiliation with Red Ivy this season, but the bar was quick to create two new mixed drinks in their honor: The Golden Gopher and the Spin Your Head (it's a Minnesota thing). On the other hand, Purdue grads have school spirit built in to any bar; all they need is a stein of beer with a shot of whiskey dropped in. Alums dominate the entire back room of Durkin's on game day, with special packages for Purdue Club of Chicago members. And it pays to join the club with deals like, if you purchase a 32-ounce mug, you can fill it with domestic drafts for $7 or, more impressively, Red Bull and vodka for $20. If that doesn't warm up your fall football experience, just go home.
Illinois vs. Indiana: Joe's Bar vs. Kirkwood Bar & Grill
This season, ex-Champaign-Urbana-ites and Illini Club members will mourn the loss of Chief Illiniwek together at Joe's, drowning their sorrows in free Coors Light drafts and a halftime hotdog buffet. But, Kirkwood's appreciation for its beloved Hoosiers goes a bit further. Named specifically for the main Indiana University drag, Kirkwood's won't beat you over the head with its affiliation, but it does exist to support all things outta Bloomington. What other place in Chicago would name a filet mignon sandwich The General after famed b-ball coach Bobby Knight? Yes, it's not football-centric, but still, have some pride.
Northwestern vs. Ohio State: Trinity Bar vs. McGee's
Trinity Bar's partial claim to Notre Dame students adds a touch of Emerald Isle authenticity to its $3 Guinness pours, but the pub also holds Wildcat fans in high regard, broadcasting every Northwestern game on its HDTVs. But between its multiple bars, backyard beer garden and huge Ohio State pride, McGee's beats out Trinity on numbers alone, let alone spirit: It packs Buckeyes in with crowbars (claustrophobics, take note). For every early game, McGee's gears up for its Kegs and Eggs special, unlimited domestic drafts and a breakfast buffet for $20. Fight songs ring out at every opportunity, and confetti cannons explode with every score.
Penn State vs. Michigan: Flounder's vs. Duffy's Tavern
If you ever want to recreate the most-crowded, sweaty, beer-soaked keg party from your undergrad years, head to Duffy's. Thousands (or so it seems) relive the Big House experience on Saturdays. With 30 TVs, it's impossible not to have a view of the game, and a buck from each $7 32-ounce mug of Bud or Miller Lite goes to the university's alumni association. But it's not hard to imagine why Penn State alums call Flounder's home. This neighborhood, loft-like bar has free pool, free wi-fi, breakfast for morning games and $7 pitchers of Miller Lite, making it the homier, preferred choice. Also, any bar that has a full pig roast for Homecoming gets extra merit in our book.
Michigan State vs. Notre Dame: Gin Mill vs. Victory Liquors
Winner: Victory Liquors
The Gin Mill, despite being run by MSU alums who bleed pure Spartan blood, gets edged out by Victory Liquors based on its classiness factor, even though the Fighting Irish play for the Big East Conference and not the Big Ten (ouch, dissin' the subject matter). Victory has the college corner on the Matt Ensler-owned bars (Elm Street Liquors and Empire Liquors round out the group), and the dark-oaken room with multiple screens has a certain sense of (gasp) maturity that many college bars lack. Don't get us wrong; go to the Gin Mill when you want to slam mini-pitchers, scream "woo-hoo" at the top of your lungs and get your girlfriend to dance on the bar. But the bus trips to South Bend for every home game, the mini-theater setup for dedicated viewing, and a $10 kegs-and-eggs package for early games gives the edge to Victory.