Turtle Racing at Big Joe’s

turtle racing
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The Kentucky Derby conjures images of seersucker suits, women in ridiculously large hats, mint juleps and ‘old money’. The Derby, often referred to as “The Run for the Roses,” is a Grade I stakes race for three year-old Thoroughbred horses. It epitomizes the avant-garde of the south.

Now close your eyes. Swap out those images of fresh mint juleps for pitchers of PBR. Instead of Kentucky’s historical arena, ‘Churchill Downs’,  you’re standing in a dimly lit bar with carpeting. And finally, replace those gorgeous Thoroughbred horses with… turtles. Yes, that’s right, turtles racing each other. Congratulations, you have successfully talked your mind out of the Kentucky Derby and into Friday night Turtle Races at Big Joe’s.

Turtle Racing at Big Joe’s (located in Lincoln Square) happens every Friday night and the first Saturday night of each month. Every dollar you spend on drinks buys you a raffle ticket, which positions you one step closer to sponsoring one of the six turtles. I have been incentivized to drink for many reasons, often very low quality reasons, but never turtles. So as an adult male, did I feel funny about cheering on a huge, but ever humble, turtle named ‘Yolanda’ as she clawed her way to the finish line? Yes. One hundred percent.

The format is simple: Each turtle is announced by name and number and is then placed in the center of a large circle underneath a glass pie top. When the lid is removed the turtles all crawl their way out of the circle. Well, some of them (See: ‘Yolanda’s Stand Against Turtle Racing’ in the 2nd round). Races can last anywhere from 15-30 minutes based on turtle participation/ethusiam. Which is why the announcer was so crucial in keeping the energy in the room at a WWF high.

The racing doesn’t start until around 10:30pm and goes until the wee hours of the morning. I didn’t see the end culmination of a winner. In fact, Yolanda’s early exit sort of took the wind from my sails. Truthfully, I don’t think I could be a regular of this Friday night event. The novelty does wear off a bit (and I unknowingly arrived at 7pm — and was thus encouraged to imbibe more then I had planned). But, if you are in the 98% percentile of Americans who have never seen a turtle race, this is definitely worth a look-see.

The Essentials:
Location:1818 W. Foster Ave.
Phone: (773) 784-8755


View Big Joe’s (Bar, Lincoln Square) in a larger map

Dan Bush

About Dan Bush

After college, Dan spent a year traveling in a van performing volunteer work around the country, otherwise known as, AMERICA. A South side of Chicago native, Dan now feels smug when he argues with people in bars that Chicago is the greatest city in the world. The Bears, brats, John C. Reilly and Comiskey Stadium are things that Dan thinks rule about Chicago. Go White Sox.

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