Billy Goats Tavern


billy goats tavern

“Cheezborger! Cheezborger! No fries, cheeps! No Pepsi, Coke!”

Recognize this classic Saturday Night Live skit? Well, John Belushi and Bill Murray didn’t make this place up; the two Chicago natives were frequent diners at Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern long before the SNL Olympia Cafe was born. The employees still chant that famous mantra at you when you order, making it clear that you should know what you want when you take a trip to Billy Goat’s. Doublecheez? Triplecheez? And though you probably think it will be pretty funny to order french fries and a Pepsi, I assure you, the joke’s been done before.

Billy Goats has a long history in Chicago and is most closely intertwined with our beloved Chicago Cubs. The curse of the goat that has kept the Cubs from winning a world series in over 100 years dates back to this small diner with its delicious greasy burgers. The first Billy Goats opened in 1934 as the Lincoln Tavern across from what is now the United Center (formerly Chicago Stadium) by Greek immigrant William Sianis. Sianis allegedly became known by his nickname “Billy Goat” when a goat fell off a passing truck and wandered into the diner. Sianis reportedly adopted the goat, grew a goatee, and renamed the cheeseburger haven Billy Goat Tavern. In 1964, Billy Goats moved to its home below Michigan Avenue (yep, below Michigan Avenue) and has now expanded to new locations on Washington Street (Loop), Wells Street (South Loop), the “Billy Goat Inn” on Madison Avenue (United Center), Navy Pier, O’Hare, and Washington D.C.

But back to the goat that became the source of so much North Side sadness. When the Cubs formed their own team in 1903 — there was formerly only one Chicago baseball team, the Chicago White Stockings — they were one powerful ball club. For 42 years, the Cubs were one of the most successful teams in baseball, winning almost 10 pennants and competing in multiple World Series games. On October 6, 1945, the Cubs were playing the Detroit Tigers in the fourth game of the World Series and were favored to win. Cubs fan Sianis got tickets to the game and headed down to Wrigley with his goat, Murphy, to bring the Cubs some luck. But luck is exactly the opposite of what Sianis brought for the Cubs. When he was denied entrance to the stadium because of his goat, he cursed the Cubs, allegedly saying, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.” Well, that’s not true either, as the goat (or a goat) has visited Wrigley Field multiple times since then to no avail. Sianis’ nephew Sam took Socrates, a descendant of Murphy, in 1973 to Wrigley Field in a white limousine and even provided him with a red carpet entrance. He was once again denied entrance. In 1984 Sinais and his goat finally walked the grass of Wrigley Field after the owner Tribune Company invited the goat to the field in an attempt to finally lift the curse. The Cubs lost again. Same in 1989. The curse just couldn’t seem to be lifted. In 1994 and 1998 similar unsuccessful attempts at the pennant were made. In 2003, with the Cubs on a roll, the goat made the trip to Houston, securing the Cubs their first division title in 14 years. It seemed to Cubs fans everywhere that this was going to be the year, until a series of events made game 6 (a home game) bring all hopes to an end for a World Series win. I think we need more help than a goat these days.

The original Billy Goats is also famous as a media hangout, situated between the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times offices. Chicago columnist Mike Royko (1972 Pulitzer Prize winner from commentary), a former writer for the Chicago Daily News (discontinued in 1978) and later other Chicago publications often frequented the Billy Goat, bringing along media savvy friends. The original Michigan Avenue location includes the “Wall of Fame,” featuring framed articles by Chicago publications, many of which were written by Billy Goat regulars. Royko wrote about the tavern often and was frequently found at the Billy Goat bar with other media friends and politicians.

Today Billy Goats is treated as a Chicago landmark and is an often visited tourist destination. Politicians and celebrities alike visit the famous tavern as part of their travels to Chicago. If you want a deliciously greasy cheeseburger and a taste of Chicago history, a visit to Billy Goats is a must. We promise you’ll be back for more.

For a more Billy Goat history, a look at their menu, or souvenirs, visit the Billy Goat Official Website

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Tessa McLean

About Tessa McLean

There is just something about that feeling when you have been away — maybe for a weekend, a month, 6 months — and you’re driving into Chicago and that first glimpse of the city skyline appears. It just always makes me smile.

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