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This week's Chicagoan: Pete Valavanis, owner, Cary's Lounge

"You can't just en masse throw everybody out; you've got to kind of little by little get the law established."

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A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"Cary was my dad. In 1972, he and my mom bought this place. I grew up here. I cleaned and mopped and filled the coolers. A lot of people, they don't know what their parents do. But I was here. I watched him work.

"My dad? Everybody loved my dad. He was always cracking wise. He was a lampshade-on-the-head kind of guy. He had a goat. Her name was Bella. He'd walk her down Devon Avenue. 'What kind of dog is that?' kids would ask him. My dad would say, 'It's a goat dog.' He just showed up with that goat out of the blue, by the way. You'd send him out for some groceries, and he'd come back with a pinball machine.

"In the late 70s and into the 80s, things got kind of rough in the neighborhood, and the bar reflected that. I remember a guy getting thrown out of the front window like a Wild West scene.

"One time there were two guys fighting. One guy whistled out the door, and a whole bunch of gangbangers came running in. One of them grabbed a barstool and was about to throw it. I grabbed it out of his hand. I said, 'Hey guys, the fight's over, everything's cool.' This kid headbutted me. Chipped my tooth, knocked my glasses off. I said, 'Okay, you win.' What am I gonna do? I'm gonna fight seven, eight gangbangers? I picked up the phone and said, 'You guys decide what you want to do. I'm calling the police.' And they left.

"The bar got rougher and rougher. When my dad passed away, I didn't know if I wanted to keep it. I decided if I'm gonna keep it, I need to get rid of all this. It took a bunch of years, but it worked. You can't just en masse throw everybody out; you've got to kind of little by little get the law established.

"I'm into pool, so I started sponsoring pool leagues, and that drew in another set of people. Keeping the place clean helps. There's a line I read somewhere—'Dark deeds require dark places.' Something like that. Fortunately those crazy days are gone.

"My oldest regular, we call him Doc Bob. He's not a doctor. He's been coming here since before my parents bought the place. If he doesn't come in for a few days, I might check on him. I'll call his house and see if he's OK.

"My dad came from a hotel background. He knew how to make cocktails. But when he opened the bar, he dropped all that. It was just a shot and a beer place with the occasional cocktail. The past few years, we've gotten better at that. I love an umbrella in my cocktail. Why not?

"I have a feeling I'm gonna die here. I don't see myself leaving. If I get old enough and I can't hack all the kids, I'll just put a lock on the door."

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