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Street Level

What to do and where to do it in Ukrainian Village and East Village


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Alfredo's Decoration in this low-key neighborhood joint runs toward old beer ads with half-naked women and blow-up maracas with beer logos—except above the bar, where a collection of model ships dominates. There's no beer on tap, but they do offer a good selection of Mexican brews. Regulars—and they're pretty much all regulars here—don't even have to order, the bartenders are so familiar with their favorites. Sat 6 PM-3 AM, Sun-Fri 6 PM-2 AM, 826 N. Ashland, 312-733-9873. —Julia Thiel

Blind Robin This bi-level little joint in the former Bar Vertigo is brought to you by the folks behind Lemmings, Underbar, and the Green Eye Lounge. It's exceedingly welcoming and down-to-earth, and bartenders seem value conscious to a fault, at least one being exceedingly proud of the house box wine. There's free WiFi and a selection of board games. Cash only. Sat noon-3 AM, Mon-Fri 4 PM-2 AM, Sun noon-2 AM, 853 N. Western, 773-395-3002. —Mike Sula

The Boundary Walking into this place is a bit overwhelming: it's a huge sports bar, with high ceilings, wall-to-wall plasma TVs, and not-low-enough lighting. Its patrons don't seem to mind, though—the night I was there, the place was packed with chatty twentysomethings, only half of whom were paying attention to the sports on-screen. There are 27 microbrews as well as 12 beers on tap, and the kitchen stays open until an hour before close, turning out appetizers and munchies, some comfort-food large plates, salads, sandwiches, and nine different burgers.  Sat 10 AM-3 AM, Sun 10 AM-2 AM, Mon-Fri 11 AM-2 AM, 1932 W. Division, 773-278-1919. —Kelly Russell

Celina's Corner Celina's is a no-frills corner bar with a Latin flavor, decorated sparsely with year-round Christmas lights, spiky houseplants, and photos of bygone days. That's not to say there's any lack of ambience here—some regulars having a bro-down by the pool table were more than happy to chat with a stranger. One gentleman in a sheriff's jacket advised me to try having sex in a swimming pool before "hinting" that I should marry my drinking buddy. The drinks are cheap but the beer selection's perfunctory.  11 AM-2 AM daily, 900 N. Western, 773-486-8737. —Bianca Jarvis

Cleo's This place reads first as a bar, thanks to the TV monitors, dim lighting, and, well, the enormous bar, but there's also an extensive menu that includes salads, pizza, sandwiches, and entrees plus daily specials during the week, like ten-cent wings on Mondays, $5 pizzas on Thursdays, and a free buffet Saturday nights. Weekend brunch features a Bloody Mary bar, and carryout is available. There's a good selection of reasonably priced beer, both bottles and draft, including a $3.50 Kirin Ichiban. Most of the walls are covered with murals that don't seem to follow any particular theme—there's a large Buddha on one wall, an abstract painting on another, and naked ladies in the bathroom.  Sat 11 AM-3 AM, Sun 11 AM-2 PM, Mon-Fri 4 PM-2 AM, 1935 W. Chicago, 312-243-5600. —JT

Club Foot Bartender/DJ couple Chuck Uchida and Lauree Rohrig opened Club Foot in 1995 in part to house their collection of rock and punk memorabilia: almost every inch of wall space is crammed with T-shirts, band flyers, postcards, action figures, and inflatable toys. Uchida estimates that 85 percent of the stuff is theirs, with the remainder contributed by regulars. There's a pool table, a pinball machine, and a much-loved Tetris game, and DJs spin on a nightly basis, playing anything from Brit pop to Donna Summer to hard rock (see Music). Drink specials include $2 bottles of PBR four nights a week and $2.50 well drinks on Mondays and Wednesdays.  Sat 8 PM-3 AM, Sun-Fri 8 PM-2 AM, 1824 W. Augusta, 773-489-0379. —BJ

Easy Bar Owned by the people behind Estelle's and AliveOne, this modest-size bar tries its best to be swanky. The back room is furnished with black benches and a fireplace filled with candles, but the lights are a little too dim and the loungey furnishings a little over-the-top. Easy Bar has its charms, though: an eclectic jukebox, unobtrusive TVs, and a pool table right up front (and it's underused, judging from my visit). Cocktails are the specialty here, and they're strong; most start around $5.  Sat 5 PM-3 AM, Mon-Fri 5 PM-2 AM, Sun 5-midnight, 1944 W. Division, 773-227-4644. —KR

EZ-Inn This dim, cavernous 40-year-old bar doesn't offer much in the way of beverage selection (a few of the beer taps were hidden under paper-bag sleeves), but it's got personality. After being buzzed in by the sweet bartender, Lyuba, we were greeted by a wild-eyed mohawked gentleman who loudly proclaimed "I am Hellboy" while brandishing a full bottle of vodka. A few minutes later another patron bought us a round of shots and we were offered the opportunity to buy some tube socks at a very good price. As at seemingly every dive on this strip of Western, Christmas lights were strung above the bar, but here nobody had bothered to turn them on.  Sat 8 AM-3 AM, Sun-Fri 8 AM-2 AM, 921 N. Western, 773-384-9682 . —BJ

The Fifty-50 New three-level sports bar/lounge/restaurant that tries to do a little of everything (see Restaurants for more).  Lunch Fri-Sun, dinner daily, open till 3 AM Sat, 2 AM Sun-Thu, 2047 W. Division, 773-489-5050. $$

Gold Star Zakopane, Phyllis' Musical Inn (see Music), and the Gold Star form a triangle of well-preserved pregentrification Ukie Village saloons that have weathered Division Street's transformation from "Polish Broadway" to hipster strip. Mary Ann Reid, who's owned and run the place since 1990, says back in the day a previous owner used to shuttle sailors in from Navy Pier to be entertained by young women in the rooms upstairs; a street view ran $3.75 an hour. In recent years Gold Star has adapted to changes in the neighborhood with frequent paint jobs, rotating local artwork, free popcorn, and superfriendly, generous bartenders who continue to entice new generations of drinkers while keeping the dwindling ranks of old-timers happy.  Sat 4 PM-3 AM, Sun-Fri 4 PM-2 AM, 1755 W. Division, 773-227-8700. —MS

Happy Village The sign outside declares this corner bar "The Happiest Place in East Village." With board games, Golden Tee, and a Ping-Pong room, it's a place you could easily pass a few hours reconnecting with your childhood, if that's what makes you happy, and maybe for this reason it attracts a younger crowd than some of the other neighborhood institutions. It can get pretty packed on weekends, but there's a beer garden, decorated with Christmas lights and sometimes open even during the winter, with heat lamps to prevent hypothermia. Always popular, it's likely to be even more so this summer thanks to the smoking ban.  Sat 4 PM-3 AM, Sun noon-2 AM, Mon-Fri 4 PM-2 AM, 1059 N. Wolcott, 773-486-1512. —JT

High Dive High Dive is exactly what its name suggests: a higher-end dive bar. Along with a good beer selection, and at least one bartender who's a real character, it's got classy touches, like the red-hued decor, which features framed posters from indie rock shows and a couple of booths that can easily seat up to ten. The kitchen's also a notch above the standard: my grilled cheese was done panini style and my friend raved about her wrap with portobello mushrooms and feta.  Sat 3 PM-3 AM, Sun 11 AM-2 AM, Mon-Thurs 4 PM-2 AM, Fri 3 PM-2 AM, 1938 W. Chicago, 773-235-3483. —KR

Inner Town Pub This hole evolved from one of the area's many Prohibition-era speakeasies. It retains a muted exterior that gives way to a subterranean-feeling interior full of haphazardly curated clutter—moose head, army helmet, stained glass, sad clowns, dwarves, elephants, Elvis, wooden Indian, etc. Booze is cheap, and there's a well-regarded music open mike on Thursday and Sunday, but incredibly the place smells worse since the smoking ban.   Sat 3 PM-3 AM, Sun-Fri 3 PM-2 AM, 1935 W. Thomas, 773-235-9795. —MS

Innjoy This spacious spot can't quite figure out what it wants to be. It's set up like a restaurant (see Restaurants for more), with dining tables lining the walls and a great menu, but it feels like a lounge, owing mostly to the pop-music soundtrack and the armchair-style seats and curtained booths. Either way it's a pleasant experience: the waitstaff is friendly and the daily drink specials are inviting. Beware the Vodka Banzai, a jumbo vodka and Red Bull that guarantees you'll wake up with a headache.  Sat 11 AM-3 AM, Sun 11 AM-2 AM, Mon-Fri 4 PM-2 AM, 2051 W. Division, 773-394-2066. —KR

J&M Tap This dive bar is beloved by regulars who desperately want to guard it from yuppies and hipsters. But don't be intimidated by the lack of a sign or a phone number, the scary bouncer, or the threats of surly protective Yelpers. Come for the friendly bartender who proffered her bleach-soaked rag and asked us if it smelled like semen and then mixed us "spa shots" (a delicious combination of Baileys, butterscotch schnapps, and vanilla vodka). Beer specials include $3 pints of 312 and Stella, and there are complimentary pretzel sticks and trashy snacks like Combos and Slim Jims to soak up the booze. Pool table, video slots, and a jukebox that's all over the map—what more could you want?  Sat 11 AM-3 AM, Sun 11 AM-2 AM, Mon-Fri noon-2 AM, 957 N. Leavitt, no phone. —BJ

Jun Bar The neutral-toned decor of this two-story space is starkly minimalist, and the entire place is spick-and-span. The drinks are on the pricey side ($7 for a call G & T) but well made, and there's a menu offering appetizers, salads, and burgers. On the first floor the atmosphere is lively, helped along by the bar's 90s-heavy soundtrack; the music's more wide-ranging on the second-floor lounge, with lots of house on weekends, when there's no cover till 11 PM.  Sat 11 AM-3 AM, Sun 11 AM-2 AM, Mon-Fri 4 PM-2 AM, 2050 W. Division, 773-486-6700. —KR

Loop Tavern Loop Tavern's giant arrow sign blinks a few blocks down the street from Alcala's Western Wear's rearing horse, pointing the way in to one of the area's many liquor store/bar combinations. At 8 PM on a Tuesday the wood-paneled bar area was packed to the gills with salt-of-the-earth types sipping cheap beer and whiskey, watching a game, and chatting animatedly as country music played on the stereo.  Fri-Sat 7 AM-1 AM, Mon-Thu 7 AM-11 PM, Sun 11 AM-7 PM, 1610 W. Chicago, 312-226-6740. —BJ

Ola's Liquors The neon sign outside Ola's front door reads zimne piwo—"cold beer" in Polish—and who could ask for more? This dive bar has just two on tap, Old Style and PBR, but they're dirt cheap at $1.50 per draft. Everyone knows each other here; owner Ola Alexandrev herself kisses many of the regulars on both cheeks as they walk in the door, but even if you're new to the place, odds are you'll feel right at home. The bar doubles as a liquor store, stocking mainly whiskeys, vodkas, and cognacs.  Sat 7 AM-3 AM, Mon-Fri 7 AM-2 AM, Sun 11 AM-2 AM, 947 N. Damen, 773-384-7250. —KR

Rainbo Club The gorgeous Rainbo is hallowed ground for successive generations of musicians, artists, writers (Nelson Algren among the earliest), and hangers-on, all of whom vie for position on the annual photo-booth calendar—the nonconformist's equivalent of the high school yearbook, issued every New Year's Eve. Over the years the reception to new faces has veered unpredictably between warm and chilly, but no matter your position in the hierarchy there's nothing quite like quaffing a cheap libation in the chill dark, listening to a rigorously tasteful selection of vinyl and peering around for ghosts. The tiny stage behind the horseshoe bar very occasionally hosts a musical act; watch the cases at the front of the bar around Christmas for the annual over-the-top dioramas using owner Dee Taira's extensive collection of Godzilla and Ultraman toys.  Sat 4 PM-3 AM, Sun-Fri 4 PM-2 AM, 1150 N. Damen, 773-489-5999. —MS

Rite Liquors This 90-year-old "slashie" (liquor store-slash-bar) offers the requisite jukebox and pool table, although both are within range of the truly impressive bathroom funk. But if the smell is worse than at many other bars, the alcohol selection is exponentially better. Hundreds of types and brands of liquor line the wall behind the bar, stacked several shelves high and ranging from Zubrowka bison grass vodka to Woodford Reserve premium bourbon. The place has its fair share of drunks, some more endearing than others: one may sit down next to you and start elbowing you, another may presume to kiss your hand and mutter, "Someday, someday . . ." And unless you're a regular, prepare to be stared at.  Sat 7 AM-3 AM, Sun 11 AM-2 AM, Mon-Fri 7 AM-2 AM, 1649 W. Division, 773-486-6257. —JT

Small Bar This unassuming soccer bar is one of those places you don't want to leave if you don't have to. The decor—lava lamps and classic rock photography alongside rally scarves and framed jerseys—is casual and inviting, and the bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable. It's a good thing too, since Small Bar has a massive beer selection—120 varieties in total. English Premiere League games are broadcast Saturday mornings, when brunch is available. Bands play occasionally, and there's a DJ every Tuesday. Sat 11 AM-3 AM, Sun-Fri 11 AM-2 AM, 2049 W. Division, 773-772-2727. —KR

Stella's Sports Bar Stella's—in the space that briefly housed the Empty Bottle in the early 90s—is an interesting hybrid of sports bar, liquor store, and Polish dive. The bar is festooned with Christmas lights, plastic flowers in vases, beer-flag garlands, and cardboard cutouts of Michelob models. Don't expect to watch the game on a bank of flat-screen TVs—a single tube will have to suffice, along with an uncrowded pool table, a good jukebox, and a pinball machine. Owner Stella Grace herself will be happy to help you navigate the bar's selection of exotic liquors, which are also available for takeout. Try a shot of Old Krupnik honey vodka with an Okocim beer chaser, or Zubrowka bison grass vodka mixed with apple juice.  Sun 11 AM-2 AM, Mon-Sat noon-2 AM, 935 N. Western, 773-384-0077. —BJ

Tuman's Tuman's once proudly declared its dank dissolution from its front window. But then the neighborhood changed, and the motto previously painted on the glass, alcohol abuse center, was removed so it wouldn't scare the newbies. Now Tuman's offers cask-conditioned ale, free WiFi, and turkey-and-Brie wraps, and patrons are well groomed enough to be permitted to drink chardonnay alfresco. These days Tuman's has about as much character as a cracker factory, and only well-financed alcoholics can do themselves any real damage, what with the stingy pours. Live DJs spin on a regular rotation (see Music).  Sat noon-3 AM, Mon-Fri, 3 PM-2 AM; Sun 11 AM-2 AM, 2159 W. Chicago, 773-782-1400. —MS

W Cut Rate Liquors Tinted windows make this place look forbidding from the outside, but inside, with brightly colored walls and balloons hung above the bar, it looks strangely clean-cut for a slashie. The racially and ethnically diverse clientele is mostly male, over 40, and friendly—our neighbor at the bar offered his strong views on a variety of subjects, from the smoking ban in bars ("No smoking. No good.") to the lack of a pool table ("No pool. No good."). The bartender's response to "Got any good cocktails?" was, without hesitation, "You like beer? Not too expensive." She wasn't lying: Pabst, the only thing on tap, is $1.25 and bottles of Miller Lite are $2.50. There are also close to a dozen $1 shots, mostly schnapps and cheap tequila.  Fri-Sat 7 AM-2 AM, Sun-Fri 7 AM-midnight, 1656 W. Division, no phone. —JT

Zakopane A sign inside says you bet your sweet dupa i'm polish, and Zakopane is indeed the most faithful holdout along the once-great Polish Broadway, serving imported piwo (Zywiec and Okocim), and boasting a jukebox that pits Ryszard Rynkowski against Zeppelin. It's small, unadorned, unpretentious, open early for clocked-out night-shift workers, and probably a lot more fun if you speak polsku.  Sat 7 AM-3 AM, Sun-Fri 7 AM-2 AM, 1734 W. Division, 773-486-1559. —MS

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