When young urbanites began swarming dive bars for sport, you mourned the loss of anonymous, pretense-free drinking. Rest easy, nostalgists; the slashy, a Chicago classic liquor store-slash-taproom, promises reliably low-key environs. Glamorously mussed up it ain't; if the dive bar is the booze equivalent of a lightly dusted PBR can, the slashy is a chipped 40-ounce of Steel Reserve that'll slice you up if handled improperly. Yet, when the weekend crowd at Gold Star
is reminiscent of Goodbar
and the L&L Tavern
is virtually interchangeable with Lava Lounge, this special breed of bars may be your cure.
Head a few blocks south of Rainbo Club around 1 p.m., and you'll find this narrow, Ukrainian Village dive packed to the edge. Like the actual bar, the liquor selection here is small, with a disjointed, garage sale-inspired organization to the shelves. Ola's offers $1 shots of Malört, a bitter liqueur produced solely by Chicago's Carl Jeppson company. The spirit, which reputedly translates to "bad water," boasts that a scant one in 49 men can handle it. If you fall into this two-percent bracket, duck into this Polish-owned spot to purchase your own bottle as a souvenir before traipsing off to lunch.
An ornate neon sign marks the corner of Montrose and Albany, the site of the city's glossiest booze-and-buy. The wood-paneled taproom, open since the '40s and maintained by a husband and wife team, hides in the back of the storefront and has a solid jukebox, though the day drinkers care more about Rolling Rocks than they do the Stones. It caters to the brooding variety (the sort of place you'd go for some serious introspection), but the staff and patrons are welcoming enough to the slashy novice. The spot also packs a small, quality selection of liquor that falls under the $15 mark, making it a nice little spot to get lit and grab a bottle before meeting your date at Semiramis, the Lebanese BYO down the street.
photo: Courtesy of Bridget Cicenia
Though many weak-willed barflies who visit this 90-year-old Division mainstay sack a can of Sparks and scamper out, those seeking a good story know to grab a stool. Between its cavernous interior, raucous crowd and eternal Sunday-afternoon-on-the-South-Side vibe, Rite offers respite from the frou-frou stops just west. Owner Mike Liacopoulos is charismatic and chatty, and he never tires of that inside joke you two have, even though it's a socially awkward one. The pool table in the back serves as a respectable alternative when Gold Star's billiard waitlist is full, though newbies should expect initiatory harassment from regulars.
Sheridan "L" Liquors
With its business in the front, party in the back construction, the slashy represents the ultimate in convenience and function; so, when you find one steps away from public transportation and a handful of restaurants, you'll consider taking up residency. Located directly beneath the Sheridan L stop, this neighborhood rarity boasts unappealing decor and a remarkable retail selection of wine and beer. The clientele and staff seem so accustomed to BYO transients lugging pinot grigio down Sheridan, they'll hardly flinch when you stroll in—but order a draft and make yourself at home before your meal. You'll make new friends (or enemies) before the next train car rolls overhead.
Manned by Rite Liquors' owner's brother-in-law, Tony Kontos, Loop doesn't have the constant party that Rite does. It has lots of lottery tickets instead. It also has a relatively inoffensive vibe, likely cultivated by appreciative patrons who witnessed the demise of nearby Rothschild Liquors' bar a little over a year ago. For the most part, Loop offsets the slew of glittery new Noble Square lounges quite nicely, and proves that with enough scratching, you might just hit gold—though regulars seem to find the $2 pints of Honey Brown lager a worthy consolation prize.