Jul 2, 2018

A commoner dares to drink at Chicago’s L&L Tavern

I’ve often written of the need for a dive bar hall of fame to commemorate all the dank, dingy and downright dirty drinking establishments that still manage to become cherished for their cheap libations, surly yet friendly bartenders who love to drink as much (if not more) than you, and a feel-right-at-home vibe.  

Every town, big or small, seems to have a bar with a certain degree of divey-ness.  Some have more if they’re lucky.  And then there’s Chicago, which is fortunate enough to have the L&L Tavern, a watering hole worthy of the inclusion in the dive bar hall of fame if there ever was one.  For starters, the L&L Tavern prides itself as being the “Creepiest Bar in the USA.”  And they just may be right.

Located near the corner of Clark and Belmont in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood (and within easy walking distance of Wrigley Field), L&L Tavern stands out by looking even more dive-ish than your typical Chicago dive bar.  As such, it seemed like the perfect place for Punky and me to stop on our way to a ball game.  With both Old Style and Pabst signs lit up in the window, why not?  

The self-promotion as the Creepiest Bar in the USA” sealed the deal.  And as we soon found out, L&L Tavern earned the moniker legitimately.  It has boasted both Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy as past frequent patrons.  Rumor has it that Gacy would even drink in his full clown outfit. 

So, what kind of dive bar would attract two of the nation’s most notorious serial killers?  Let’s take a look …

First, just relish in the general gloom and drabness of the bar’s interior.  When you can’t really tell what color the walls are, it’s a good sign you’re in a major league dive.  Then there’s the ceiling.  That’s not a retro industrial look; that’s the original.  Did you also notice the outdated box TV hanging in the corner?  You can’t recreate ambiance like this.

Now let’s have a closer look at the barstools.  Well worn is an understatement.  Find the one with the cleanest PBR sticker and have a seat.

Needless to say, Punky was quite pleased we had found the place.  As an added bonus, the bartender, who bore more than just a passing resemblance to a pirate, was more than happy to discuss the history of the place with her. Well, maybe not happy. But he was a good conversationalist.  

For a killer dive bar (pun intended), L&L Tavern has a surprisingly large and diverse selection of local brews, macro brews and cheap “second-tier” beers (like Hamm’s and Pabst Blue Ribbon).  With those cheap beers come cheap prices.    

The tavern’s love affair with PBR in particular is evident from all of the Pabst memorabilia on display throughout the bar.  This aspect was especially appreciated by the late, great Anthony Bourdain who came to the L&L to learn about Malort and share shots with the owner.

You’ll also find a fair share of odd religious decorations around the bar intertwined with the PBR theme.  Maybe it speaks to a special kind of religion they practice here – a reverence of weirdness, perhaps? 

And no self-respecting dive bar would be complete without an outdated jukebox loaded with music ranging from the classic rock and soul to the offbeat, to the punk to the obscure.  And if you happen to make a poor choice, the bartender will gladly veto it. 

In a way, Punky and I almost regretted we had a game to get to, since even in the early afternoon, the L&L Tavern was thoroughly entertaining and provided the perfect atmosphere for quality day drinking.  The bar is certainly not lacking in personality, character and history – both famous and infamous – and it’s easily one of the best dive bars I’ve ever experienced.  This is a must-find for anyone visiting Chicago who wants to channel their inner Bourdain or Bukowski. 

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