UPchicago Bar Crawl: West Division Street

phyllis musical inn
Photo Credit

We’re pros by now. Bar Crawl #8 straddled the borders of Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village, as we hopped to different spots along West Division Street, lined with bars, restaurants, and shops — a mix of trendy, dive, and mainstream. The multitude of patios along the strip was a welcome addition to a June crawl on an evening with a perfect summer temperature. So perfect, in fact, that we ended the evening with a 2am sidewalk concert by Moon Furies in another effort to complete their 100 shows in 100 days. There’s a bar for everyone on West Division, so follow this crawl and see which ones are right for you.

We began at Innjoy just West of Damen with $4 pitches of PBR. Let the debauchery begin.

Innjoy — Jessie Stegner
2051 W. Division St.

It’s hard to create a cozy atmosphere in the middle of the bustling intersection of Damen and Division, but Innjoy completes the task. Nestled in the middle of a strip of bars and eateries, this bar/restaurant makes it easy to have a beer and good conversation with friends. There are plenty of high-top tables and comfortable wall seating to accommodate bigger groups. Mellow music plays at a level low enough to allow you to hear your bar mate’s latest work day drama, or eavesdrop on an awkward first date. Large flat screen televisions are hung throughout the place for your buddy that enjoys the occasional update on the big game.

Their friendly staff is happy to serve you anything off of their full dinner menu or from their bar, which has specials every night of the week.The spacious dining and mingling area also has all kinds of fun and unique art pieces and light fixtures that give the place a trendy yet casual vibe. On warmer days the patio is a wonderful place to take in the summer air as the lights of the bar’s sign shine down on their neon green and blue outdoor chairs. All you need is a group of friends and an evening free, Innjoy will take care of the rest.

Small Bar — Ivan Favelevic
2049 W. Division St.

As a soccer fan living in the states I am often alone in my love and admiration for the sport. Located on West Division, Small Bar provides the open doors, well-lit atmosphere associated with American bars, all while housing the hardcore soccer fandom found in an English Pub. Premier League, UEFA Champions League and pretty much every major soccer tournament in Europe and North America can be seen here on large screen TV’s surrounded by a group of people who genuinely care about what’s happening.

Small Bar has a great beer selection, even including their own SmallBar Pale Ale. They also offer some great specials on these craft beers all week long. The food is appropriate to the atmosphere, with finger pickings a plenty and some serious burgers outlining the surprisingly gourmet menu. The place keeps its doors and windows open during nice days and about 20 tables of outdoor seating.

Overall, the atmosphere is exactly what one would expect from a sports bar, loud and over the top. Nonetheless, seeing “the beautiful game” on screen is a welcome change to the classic American sports we are used to seeing. Needless to say, it’s a downright heaven for futbol lovers in Chicago.

Phyllis’ Musical Inn — Erin Nederbo
1800 W. Division St.

Phyllis’ Musical Inn was the third stop on our West Division bar crawl. Its glass block exterior and small neon sign look far less appealing than some of the other stops along our crawl but, trust me, don’t let that discourage you. Inside, the bar reminded me of a garage sale, mainly because there’s a lot of random stuff all over the place. There’s black wallpaper patterned with gold pianos on the wall behind the bar, a fake hawk hanging from the ceiling in a corner near the door, a Pac Man machine, robot paintings on the wall opposite the bar, Blackhawks memorabilia, and a fish tank. Yes, a fish tank — with live fish.

Still, it isn’t called Phyllis’ Musical Inn for nothing and, despite the odd decor, the stage, located directly against the back wall is what immediately took my attention. As its name suggests, the bar had live music. Who was playing, I’m not sure. The duo, a short woman with a raspy voice and a man with a powerful harmonica and a gray haired ponytail that reached his lower back, serenaded the bar. There were no introductions, as far as my intoxicated self can remember, no “thanks for listening” or “check out our Facebook page.” It was mysterious, in the same way the bar’s massive side patio was.

Being a Tuesday, the bar wasn’t crowded. There were a handful of regulars who kept to themselves. They didn’t mind us sitting back in the throne like chairs around a small table talking louder then we all probably thought we were, getting to know each other. The tamale man, made his way throughout the bar and I couldn’t resist ordering some chicken tamales, five for $5. Delicious. With Bud Light for $3.75 and, what appeared to be, the majority of their beers available in bottles, rather then on tap, Phyllis’ Musical Inn is worth checking out.

Zakopane — Gene Wagendorf III
1734 W. Division St.

As the last remnant of what used to be called “Polish Broadway,” Zakopane stands out as an old-school joint in the middle of the craziness known as Division Avenue. With plenty of trendy bar options, sometimes you just want a no-frills drink and a pool table. Voila!

For our bar crawl purposes, Zakopane offered a nice respite from loud music and elbow-to-elbow mingling. The jukebox is perfect if you’re looking for some classic rock or polka and the wood paneling on the walls gives the whole bar a sort of lost in time atmosphere.

The staff? Well, every time I’ve stopped by this bar it’s always the same smiling lady behind the bar and the night of this crawl was no different. She walks the line between smiling and socializing with the regulars and being attentive to anyone who happens to wander in for just one. Want to put her in a good mood? Apparently all you have to do is throw on something you can dance to. We had to stop our game of pool to watch her bust a move to a salsa-ed up version of a Beatles song, the name of which escapes me. That’s alcohol for you.

While not the ideal place to take a date — there isn’t anything remotely romantic about Zakopane — it’s a great place to grab a table with some friends and tell dirty jokes. If you’re not funny, just buy a round of Żubrówka. You’ll get there.

Bangers & Lace — Pat Howard
1670 W. Division St.

The British term for sausage is “bangers” and “Brussels lace” refers to the leftover foam inside of a beer glass that indicated a proper pour. I can think of no better name for this pub and restaurant as it features some of the best sausages the city has to offer along with 30 draft beers any make-up of taste buds would find appealing.

Being in this establishment reminded me of setting foot in a summer lodge in Wisconsin or Michigan. The interior features wood floors, brick walls, panel siding and decorations such as a deer head on the far wall of the room. The lighting is very dim but augmented by candlelight, creating the illusion of an isolated cabin when really the city lurks just outside the front door.

Some folks like to pair cheese with their wine, but Bangers & Lace is a joint helping you find the perfect craft beer to complement a delectable bratwurst. This place takes great pride in making sure you are happy with your food and beverage selection as the waiters and bartenders are knowledgeable in the entire menu and more than willing to walk you through popular sausage and beer pairings or offer suggestions.

If you’re a casual beer drinker like myself, the beer list may seem a little intimidating at first. However, the menu provides a one sentence description for each beer along with the alcohol content in the drink. And don’t hesitate to ask for help, Bangers and Lace is there to please.

Dance Party Nightcap
Random Street Corner on Division Street

Sometimes when the bar closes you just aren’t ready to go home. Luckily, we had a few members of Moon Furies on hand to serenade us while we nightcapped it with a few PBRs on the sidewalk. Illegal, maybe. Necessary, absolutely. There’s nothing like ending a night with good friends by dancing, singing, and poorly playing a xylophone (oh, yes we did). Another night, another successful UPchicago bar crawl. See you next time, you bunch of lushes.


UPchicago Bar Crawl: West Division Street in a larger map

About UPchicago Team

Urban Philosophy is a way of thinking that you develop when you’re a true city person. Whether you’ve spent your whole life living in Manhattan, or you just moved from small-town Iowa to the city of Chicago, the longer you stay, the more you come to understand what it means to live in a city. Our Urban Philosophy is that no matter who you are, where you are from, and what your likes and dislikes may be, there’s something for everyone in city life.

One Comment

  • Sean
    July 18, 2011 | Permalink |

    this is the best article ive ever read