(Google Street View gets the photo credit on this one.)
The Innertown Pub was the go-to neighborhood dive bar for those of us who lived near Division Street, it’s watershed spanned portions Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village. While Empty Bottle, Gold Star and Rainbo felt like scenes, Innertown was an extension of home; the kind of place you didn’t bother to check yourself in the mirror before visiting. I considered it my bar, even if I never learned the bartenders’ names. It’s the place I first told my future wife that I loved her, even if it was just on the telephone. And to this day I bear a scar on my brow from the evening I walked straight into its metal door—the result of bad peripheral vision, not intoxication. It wasn’t an exceptional place, just one that perfectly ticked all the boxes. Open mic night, good beer at decent prices, music at conversational volume, decent jukebox, pool table in the back room, nice bar and plenty of high tops, esoteric Chicago-ey bric brac, and charming people.
And it was visited by Shirley the Muffin Lady, guys who sold tamales from igloo coolers, and the old Polish lady who sold pierogies out her kitchen window down the street. That was all you needed for sustenance after midnight: hot pierogies, spicy pork-filled tamales, and muffins laced with pot. Solutions to the problem of finding cheap food to soak up alcohol present themselves organically given the chance. I’m writing this as a reminder to myself that though I favor regulation in the interest of public health, it needs to accommodate the small, roguish efforts that make life wonderful and that you find yourself reminiscing about 15 years later.
For an account of a representative evening at the Innertown Pub (including a photo of Shirley), check out my friend Felix’s blog, Avoision. Felix has been keeping a daily blog since at least 2002, and he’s done a better job of chronicling my life than I have.