My plans for a trip to Carol's Pub
last Friday night were nearly derailed by a bunch of White Russian-influenced hooligans. "It's too far," they said. "Come to Rite Liquors instead." Thankfully, a few friends decided to ignore the enticing offers and make the trek up north with me. Once we got there, we understood why the others felt it was "in another time zone"; spend a couple hours inside the bar's down-home confines, and you may find it hard to believe you're in Chicago, let alone 2007.
"Hey ladies!" the bartender shouted to my companions as we walked in. Apparently, there were too many bearded faces in the place for my presence to warrant a greeting. It was only 11:30 p.m., but the cafeteria-style tables set beyond the long wooden bar were already beginning to fill up; we were forced to grab some stools lining the small dance floor (too small for any serious line dancing, sadly) in front of the rustic, elevated stage.
Not five sips into our first $12 pitcher of Miller Lite, we were introduced to a friendly couple enjoying a spin around the dance floor. Spin is the operative word here; the woman's head ended up in our laps. They spun away, apologizing profusely (if not sincerely), but the point had been made: when you're at Carol's, you can't expect to remain on the fringes of the action.
The house band, Diamondback, soon took the stage for another of the many short sets they'd play throughout the night. Starting things off with Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," they proceeded to rip through a variety of crowd-pleasing covers, from the electric blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan to Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising." In addition to the group's impressive technical skill and authenticity (one singer was blessed with pipes incredibly similar to Cash's), the members enjoyed a good rapport with the crowd, a relationship that seemed to get better with every dollar bill stuck on the request board hanging in front of the stage.
Diamondback knows how to get a crowd on its feet, not that many of the people here need much convincing. One of the most enthusiastic participants was Bob, an older gentleman dressed in a long-sleeved shirt commemorating a production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." He comes here every week to dance with young ladies, impressing them with stories about his roles in such Chicago-based films as Uncle Buck, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Home Alone.
Soon enough, we were all dancing. Even for the rhythmically-challenged, the good-time music is easy to move to; as long as you can sway and maybe execute a twirl or two, it's pretty difficult to embarrass yourself. Difficult, but not impossible, as we learned from a couple of passionate dancers who decided to take their already indiscreet makeout session to the floor. When I say the floor, I mean the floor; when you try to add a Texas Two-Step to the already potent combination of beer and lust, soon enough gravity's going to take over.
As a man in full Western gear rushed to help the still-kissing couple (the better half of which was the same woman who'd met us head-on earlier in the night) up from the ground, many of the other dancers barely seemed to register the event. Carol's is not a place for judgment. It's a place for people young and old, for those in khakis and those in chaps. It's a place where the Southern waitresses provide homemade hiccup cures and, when you ask for a five back, slap your hand. It's a place that seems out of place in its place and time...and that's always worth the trip.
Carol's Pub hosts free live music from Diamondback every Friday and Saturday night beginning at 9 p.m.
Ben Rubenstein jumps under the covers every other week in an ongoing search for freebie music that rocks. If you know of a no-cover night he should check out, email him.