RIP Wanda Kurek, the queen of Whiskey Row | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

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RIP Wanda Kurek, the queen of Whiskey Row

The 95-year-old bar matron has passed, but Stanley's will go on.

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Wanda Kurek and bartender Guy Vanek in 2008 - LLOYD DEGRANE
  • LLOYD DEGRANE
  • Wanda Kurek and bartender Guy Vanek in 2008

"If I quit I'll be like all those old ladies sitting there with their mouths open," she says. "That ain't gonna happen to me. No way. I don't intend to quit. I intend to keep bossing others around." 

Those are the words of the late, great Wanda Kurek, proprietress of Stanley's, the 84-year-old tavern that is the last remaining holdout of Back of the Yards' Whiskey Row, the once-bustling strip of Ashland Avenue that slaked the thirst of thousands of stockyard workers. When I wrote about Wanda in 2008, she was an 84-year-old spitfire who reigned behind the bar with a sharp tongue. By all accounts she still was at age 95, when she fractured her pelvis walking down the basement stairs. That was a few months ago, but Wanda passed away last week, ending a career behind the bar that began in 1924 when she was six months old.

"She was almost almost like a mother to me," says Darlene Gonzalez, who's tended bar at Stanley's for the last two years while Wanda continued to make the daily lunch specials and speak her mind. "She was a tough woman but a truthful person. If anyone had a right to an opinion it was her."

The bar will survive her. Her nephew Wally is taking over, and Wanda's line cook has some of her recipes up her sleeve. It reopens for business today, but Gonzalez isn't sure what the special is yet.  v

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