Day-trippers and antique scavengers are already familiar with Lincoln Avenue's boutiques, and locals know the ins-and-outs of the area's numerous pubs. Standbys like the Daniel Boone-of-the-North-inspired atmosphere at Grizzly's Lounge or Cafe 28's Cuban flair continue to draw in patrons from miles around. But the Irving Park stop also boasts some lower-profile gems that generally get overlooked. From shrimp to pool sharks and wax to war mein, this week's Virtual L takes you on a tour of some unsung haunts hidden deep in Ravenswood.
Best of the Nightlife
Ten Cat Tavern
The Ten Cat Tavern used to be a vintage clothing store, and that recycled sensibility survives today in its '50s Formica tables, conflicted chairs and random thrift store lamps. Not even the ashtrays match. A massive pastoral mosaic stretches across one wall and down around the bar kick, adding an eccentric Old-World touch. Mix in a rotating array of local art and a blues-heavy jukebox tinged with jazz and you get a hip, low-key lounge with a schizophrenic bohemian vibe.
Twelve beers flow from Ten Cat's taps and taste even better in the cushy confines of the bar's high-backed, red vinyl stools. An impressive selection of microbrews run $4.50 apiece, domestic and import bottles for $3.25-$3.75 and mixed calls for $4.50. While the weekend crowd can be unpredictable, most of Ten Cat's regulars come strictly to shoot stick. Hustlers converge nightly on the eight- and nine-foot regulation Brunswick tables (vintage as well), which owner Richard Vonachen re-felts on a regular basis when he isn't making custom cues. Pool is free until 8 p.m. and all day on Sunday, an added incentive that keeps sharks circling the slate. And as you might have guessed from the tavern's name, pets are always welcome.
Good for groups
A poster of "The Big Lebowski" graces Timber Lane's walls, reflecting the kind of easy-going attitude the staff takes toward the game. You probably won't see guys in too-tight pants, top-of-the-line shoes and expensive bionic wrist braces wiggling their fingers over the ball return vent while staring steely-eyed toward the pins. The ancient eight-lane alley (built in 1945) caters to a casual crowd and prides itself on providing a family-friendly space where folks can forget about everyday life for a little while.
The old-school backlit pin indicators and imported Japanese pin setters date back to '78, but owner Bob Kuhn keeps the lanes well maintained. A small bar decked out in Bears and Blackhawks memorabilia serves $2.75 Coors Lights should you decide to sit out a game or two. Besides the regular Saturday night league, the alley also hosts a women's league on Friday nights, a blind league Saturday afternoons and popular weekend gay and lesbian leagues. Sunday through Thursday Kuhn runs an Open Bowl Special where, for the paltry sum of $2 a game, you and your crew can try in vain to roll that holy 300.
Snappy's Shrimp House
With a name like Snappy's Shrimp House, you'd expect to see hurricane lamps, conch-encrusted fishnets hanging from the walls and paper pirate hats handed out with every kiddie meal. But Snappy's keeps it simple. Its dark wood counters and bright yellow walls feel more like a mellow coffeehouse than a salty seafood shack. Besides, there's barely room for one table and a handful of stools, so most diners just grab and go.
Snappy's mascot says "Know the Difference, Taste the Difference," and a cartoon crustacean can't be wrong. Cooks here use nothing but gulf shrimp hauled all the way from Alabama, instead of the farm-raised freshwater breed. If it swims, Snappy's will batter and dunk it in boiling oil: jumbo shrimp, catfish strips and sea scallops sold by the pound with calamari, clam strips and oysters on the side. The hush puppies are popular with hungry punters looking to save for a few more pints. Almost everything on the menu runs less than six clams, and, true to its name, Snappy's sees that you get your deep-fried eats in short order.
Where to chill
Sadly, many iPhiles may never know the pleasures of dusty grooves and musty album sleeves. They'll never gasp when, flipping through vinyl stacks, they stumble on timeless treasures like Eddie Murphy's "Party All the Time." But there's still hope. Deadwax (pop out those earbuds now and pay attention) refers to that smooth space around the record label where artists once slipped cryptic inscriptions for obsessive fans. It's also a tiny shop for gramophone freaks just down the block from Martyrs' and across from Grizzly's Lodge.
Thanks to proprietor Wilbur Sutphin's friendly enthusiasm, you'll never have to suffer haughty clerks with that irritating your-music-sucks attitude. Ask and he'll gladly guide you to "The Best of Gil Scott Heron" (a steal at $6.99) or Tony Randall's "Warm and Wavery" ($4.99) if that's more your speed. Limited edition silkscreen prints and photos line the walls, culled from gigs by groups like The Mooney Suzuki, Interpol and Audioslave ($34-$48). Besides LPs, Deadwax stocks used CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes and cassettes, also reasonably priced. Sutphin even keeps a stash of eight track tapes on hand for those hardcore Luddites who still insist big-ass plastic cartridges were the final word in cutting edge.
You never read about Orange Garden, though Ravenswood foodies have known about this mainstay for years. Regulars have christened its Cantonese cuisine the most authentic anywhere outside of Chinatown. The Garden opened circa 1923, and it shows in the dated decor: faded murals of pagodas, ornate Oriental fixtures and sconces, grimacing golden dragons above the door and a blinking neon sign outside that's seen brighter days. And no Chinese restaurant would be complete without those retro Zodiac placemats that call you vain and then tell you to marry a monkey.
Start off by sipping the complimentary hot tea, then move on to popular starters like hulking egg rolls ($2.75) or the possibly perfect crab rangoon (10 for $4.45). After that, you're on your own. The menu lists no less that 131 varieties of chop suey, chow mein, fried rice, chow fun, lo mein, war mein and egg foo young, as well as your traditional beef, chicken, pork and vegetable dishes. Standards like the sweet sesame chicken ($8.55) won't disappoint, while the bitter, garlic-laden shrimp lobster-style ($8.85) won't appeal to everyone. Whatever you choose, portions are heaped high on the plate, and service is swift and accommodating, if a little brusque. BYOB.