Described as a South Side bar on the North Side, this Ravenswood haunt hides inside the crumbling brick facade of a corner building. A bare wooden door and antique signage give the impression that pirates might stop in at any minute. Inside, the unassuming bar houses career dart players, who compete on two real cork boards. People who prefer to hone their hand/eye coordination without sharp projectiles can stick to the simple pool table. The air is typically filled with jazz and the hands of the patrons with inexpensive brewskis. At first glance, Big Joe's seems to be the quintessential Windy City tavern. Unless of course, your first glance happens to occur on a Friday night.
On Fridays, wooden slats and rails are wedged into the pool table to form a racetrack for turtles. That's right—turtle races. Patrons receive tickets when ordering pitchers of beer during the night, and the emcee calls out six numbers. The people with the corresponding numbers get to adopt one of the six turtles for a race, and then everyone gathers 'round the pool table and shouts obscenities at the not-so-rapid reptilian racers. Fifteen minutes later, it all happens again. It's like going to see the ponies after drinking a lot of cough syrup. No turtles are harmed, and after a few races you'll see that the animals are the ones really in charge. It's not uncommon for a few turtles to stop just short of the finish line, sending their benefactors into hysterical bouts of cursing and hollering.
Centerstage Reviewer: K. Tighe