Rainbo Club (Bar, Ukrainian Village)

Flickr Credit: swanksalot

The last time I suggested a night out at Rainbo Club my lady friend asked me why all my friends and I liked it so much. What, exactly, made it special? I was stumped for a moment, not because I was trying to think of some kind of explanation, but because the reasons just seemed to flood my brain. At first glance there isn’t anything stand-out about Rainbo, nothing that would seem to make it a destination bar or even truly set it apart from any of the other pubs in the area. The thing about Rainbo is, it has everything.

The bar has been open since the ’30s and has always reflected the neighborhood it resides in. The small stage behind the bar was home to jazz pianists and burlesque dancers during the Second World War. Nelson Algren hung out here, allegedly using it as the basis the tavern in The Man With the Golden Arm. Rainbo served as a watering-hole for the working class folks of Ukrainian Village through the ’90s, when the tides of gentrification brought in a new crowd including young artists and musicians drawn in by the bar’s history and its classic neon sign.

The people that hang out there are all over the map. Blue-collar, punk, hipster, artist, musician, Centipede-addicts, Tamale Guy-lovers and photo booth-junkies. That includes Chicago rocker Liz Phair, who posed for the cover of Exile in Guyville in the corner photo booth. Hollywood has come calling as well — John Cusack sat at one of Rainbo Club’s tables for a midday beer and bumbling marriage proposal in High Fidelity.

Practically, none of this has anything to do with your bar experience, other than it lends the place a sense of undeniable cool. What will make your night are the cheap drinks ($5 for a glass of La Fin du Monde), the photo booth, good music at a talk-able level, a pinball machine and a combo Centipede/Millipede/Missile Command arcade game. The walls are covered with paintings and photographs by local artists, including the centerpiece/old stage behind the bars and the windows that have been converted into showcase space. The decor is simple — mostly red, black and white. The booths and couch are comfortable if not a little warn in, and are great spots to let your intoxication simmer while you wait for a bag of tamales.

There’s nothing flashy about Rainbo. Everything is just exactly what it needs to be.

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Gene Wagendorf III

About Gene Wagendorf III

Gene is a writer who has spent his entire quarter century of life as a resident of Chicago. When not exploring the city he can be found wandering flea markets and garage sales or having a cigarette between classes at Northeastern Illinois University, where he hopes to acquire a degree in the next quarter century. His favorite smells are old books and bowling alleys. His poetry (how embarrassing!) can be found in issues of Kill Poet, Ditch, Word Riot, O Sweet Flowery Roses and Vowel Movements.

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