Bar Obituary: The Horseshoe

Max Herman

Photo: Max Herman

The Horseshoe was dying long before I ever set foot in it. I had heard rumors about a big scandal that had ruined the owners, somebody running off with the money, somebody having to give up on creating their dream bar halfway through. A new owner not perceiving it as an amazing opportunity but, instead, as a burden, somebody else’s unfinished project that was now unfinishable.

But, the bars that don’t make money, the bars that reflect an offbeat sensibility, are usually the best. So I hoped to make this deeply offbeat and out-of-sync bar into a clubhouse for me and my offbeat band(s).

Playing at the Horseshoe was perfect. You could get a gig whenever you wanted. The owner was a funny old guy who liked our music and would give us a cut of the bar tab when we brought new drunks into his bar. No one cut us off when we played over our allotted hour. The Special was always $5 for a beer and a shot of whiskey*. There was n1014060_1392760674334731_265476131_never any cover. If you wanted to be paid, you could pass the hat. You could always get a sound check if you wanted one.

But at the same time…

Playing at the Horseshoe was terrible. The sound guy was often late. The venue drew almost no people. One time, my buddy plugged his amp into the wall and it immediately shorted out because the bar had some weird electrical problems. When we were promoting shows, no one had ever heard of the Horseshoe, and, inconveniently, neither had other venues. The food was… uneven. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the bar was open or closed. They left the house lights up until people came in, so people didn’t come in, so the house lights stayed up. The TV was not tuned to any particular type of entertainment, meaning the Horseshoe didn’t show the most important sporting events or movies or broadcast any particular genre; the TV was just turned at random to whatever the random bar tenders wanted to watch. They left the TV sound on well into sound check. Read more

Running Stanley’s

I got a chance to talk with the man in charge at Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap last week.  Jack Binyon has been involved with a number of bars and restaurants around the city.  He has been in the business since before the Jordan days in Chicago and his family has been selling food, beer and spirits here since before the great depression when his father won his first restaurant in a game of backgammon.

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Sterch’s Obituary

Sterch’s or Sterch’s 66 doesn’t look like it used to. There is a new feel to the bar and a new crowd. Usually I wouldn’t notice, but Sterch’s is something of an institution.

I asked Sterch’s regular Adrian Bleifuss Prados if he wanted to do an interview about the changes at his favorite bar. He told me it would be more appropriate to write its obituary. That obituary follows below:

Sterch’s is no more. The last tolerable bar in Lincoln Park, a long-embattled fortress of goodness and decency, has fallen to the barbarians. The cranks, eccentrics and aging malcontents that were the bar’s regulars have mostly scattered into the tall grass, like rabbits before wolves. The rites and rituals of old have been forsaken and in their place a new, hideous order has been established. Sheepskin boots, and pink polo shirts abound. The music is intolerably loud because the patrons have nothing to say. They open their mouths and banalities flutter out like moths.

No longer do bottles of Old Style chill in the ice behind the bar. No longer will its famous awning, emblazoned with the Sterch’s carrot, flap in the wind. Today, the sign reads “Sterch’s 66.” Is this a reference to Route 66? A cute gesture to kitschy Americana? I do not know what it means but I know that it is evil.

The watering hole became famous three decades ago when Lincoln Ave. was considered a bohemian stronghold. Messrs. Stern and Smerch were the original owners and “Sterch” was a portmanteau of their surnames. The carrot became its symbol when deep-fried carrots were the bar’s signature snack. Many notable journalists, musicians, political radicals and small-time criminals quenched their thirst at massive mahogany bar. Hunter S. Thompson once destroyed its porcelain urinal. A urinal where Royko, Ebert, gods and giant-slayers relieved themselves.

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned,” so wrote Chuck Marx and Fred Engels in 1848, when they observed venerable institutions unsettled and dismantled by the constant upheavals of the market economy. Sterch’s, which once seemed eternal and unchanging, has melted into air, Lincoln Avenue is now entirely the province of the enemy. We are doomed.

Old Town Ale House

If this blog is gonna be called North and Clark we ought to at least identify a place for somebody chilling on that corner to get a drink. Lincoln Park and Old Town have plenty of places to go, but if you can’t find your khaki shorts and Cubs hat and want to enjoy your beer in a darker danker room good dives can be hard to come by.

Don’t despair. You don’t need to buy a forty from the Shell station just yet. If you walk down North Ave a little past Wells you can stop in at the Old Town Ale House.


Notable Features of the Old Town Ale House:

  • A long finger-nailed bouncer who calls you baby
  • Juke box filled with Miles Davis and Billie Holiday
  • A dirth of Dudebros and TVs
  • Quasi-graphic erotic paintings behind the bar

Like Austin sticking out in the middle of Texas, this is a welcome bit of weird in the middle of too much of the same.

Keep your nails long old town.

My Favorite Bouncer (Big Dan Jerez)

Today I interview Dan Jerez, a Westside Sox Fan bouncing in Wrigleyville.

“Gentleman, can we take this outside?”

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