Historic Bars of Chicago by Sean Parnell

God knows it’s hard to be a Cubs fan, but it’s easy to like Cubby Bear. Standing kitty corner from Wrigley Field and its infamous marquis, the Cubby Bear is a landmark that has entertained pre-game crowds, and helped celebrate the victories and mourn the defeats, for over 50 years. Cubby Bear also has a second life outside of game days with a never-ending rotation of rock and cover bands and the sports bar annex is great for Bears game days and NCAA tournament viewing. What’s particularly impressive is that Cubby Bear has weathered many storms: the neighborhood being rough until the 1980s, the Cubs through more “lean” years than you can count and, most recently, a massive influx of other bars that has transformed Clark Street, between Newport and Addison, into one of the most hoppin’ bar districts in the city… Far beyond succumbing to these market forces, all 30,000 square feet of the Cubby Bear is actually going as strong as ever, along with other Cubby Bear holdings, including the adjacent Vines on Clark with its enormous beer garden, nearby Sports Corner (kitty corner from Wrigley Field’s southeast corner), and the roadhouse version “Cubby Bear North” in suburban Libertyville.

Okay, “location, location, location” is the secret behind Cubby Bear’s popularity, here at the southwest corner of Clark & Addison, opposite the Friendly Confines. With its scrolling marquis, giant billboard on the roof and with the constant press of Cub fans on game days, Cubby Bear is a sight to behold. A little more subtle are the owners’ names, “Gus G. Loukas” and “Sophia Loukas,” carved into the stone and set within second story orange brick and above a forest green-painted facade – one has to wonder, no Cubby blue? Step up to the set of wooden double-doors with their stained glass and have your ID out for the perma-bouncers. Cubby Bear opens at 10:00am on all game days, otherwise it’s 4pm Monday through Friday, 11am on Saturday and 10:00am on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Andrew
Beyond the threshold, your initial impression may be along the lines of, “Eh? This is it?” The interior consists of a larger, sparsely furnished room, as anything not nailed down would likely get trashed or stolen. One quickly finds that this is a place to drink and “mingle.” The decor consists of checkerboard linoleum tile, a wood-slat ceiling, exposed ductwork, wooden pillars, and exterior walls of alternating exposed brick and forest green-painted drywall. To spice it up, you’ll find a small selection of Cubs and Bears memorabilia, a sprinkling of old Chicago photos, the obligatory neon beer signs, a canoe paddle, a few old televisions, and not much else. They tell me you can rent the party room upstairs, which is also opened up when the lower level gets too packed after Cub games, but I’ve never ventured up there.

A wooden bar can be found in front of windows overlooking Addison along the north wall, so jump in to get your canned beer or bottom shelf cocktail served in a plastic cup. If the show is sponsored by Budweiser, that will be the only beer you can get, in a can for $5. A series of pretty cheap drink specials are available everyday but Friday and Saturday nights. Chicago Bar Project recommendation: Beware the $1 Jello shots and the strange blue liquor that tastes like a melted bomb pop… If you’re lucky, you might be able to commandeer one of a few cocktail tables towards the outskirts of the crowd, whether it be after Cub games or for music every other night of the week. A large stage takes up most of the south wall and lately features local bands on Tuesdays, rock band karaoke on Wednesdays, and a mix of cover bands on some larger acts on weekends, including Debbie Gibson, Guster, Soul Asylum, Cracker, and Los Lobos, in the month just prior to writing. Even the dearly departed Johnny Cash played here, as well as Phish, Violent Femmes, Chuck Barry, Flaming Lips, and George Clinton, have all played the Cubby Bear. Personally, I have seen more cover bands here than you can shake a stick at, including the Afrodisiacs (disco), Sixteen Candles (80s), Mike & Joe (modern rock), Wedding Banned (80s/90s), and Elevation (U2). Everything is played loud, so bring earplugs if you need to. An impressive booth for the sound guy and DJs (Thursday nights) can be found along the eastern wall, in front of windows overlooking Clark, and you’ll find trivia on Monday nights.

Photo courtesy of Andrew
Through the west wall are steps down to the ancient bathrooms, similar to the now-defunct Lakeview Links, though with an annoying bathroom attendant like nearby Red Ivy and Timothy O’Toole’s in Streeterville, and another set of steps leads up to the Cubby Bear sports bar annex called the “Cubby Cafe” (often closed during non-game day shows). Here you’ll find a much more inviting space with its exposed brick walls, cocktail tables, six big screens, 50 high-definition TVs, and a wooden bar along the eastern wall. This room is a bit warmer and more intimate with lots of wood, brass and much more satisfying level of Cubs memorabilia, unless you’re a Cardinals or Sox fan, in which case you may want to instead focus on learning to read… This is the best spot to grab something to eat from their sandwich-laden array of pub grub. If that weren’t enough for you, you’ll also find tap beer actually served in glassware, along with two cork dartboards just to the right of the side door along Addison, and a pop-a-shot. Bonus: enormous picture windows set in the north wall can lead to drunken displays after Cub games (such as that which preceded the Puke Button Incident).

The ownership behind Cubby Bear also runs Wrigleyville Rooftops out of the building at 1032 W. Waveland, behind Wrigley Field, where a friend of mine once lived in prior to its conversion into a non-residential corporate party space. After a wild Friday night, he got a less-than-early start and was at his bathroom sink when a Sammy Sosa home run ball shattered his second story hallway window and rolled into his bathroom. He heard his roommates screaming and pointing at the TV only to turn and see himself on the TV with a half-shaven face, wearing a towel and holding the ball. Ah, good times.

As you would guess, Cubby Bear is a magnet for suburbanites getting rocked on Miller Lite, as well as other grossly inebriated visitors to our fair city who hadn’t gotten this drunk since the party barn last weekend, God love ’em… It certainly leads to a never-ending source of entertainment. Cubby Bear also has a bit of a college bar feel, similar to the notorious booze halls of Hamilton’s Pub (Loyola), The Keg (Northwestern), Hawkeye’s (UIC), Molly’s (NIU), and Kam’s (U of I).

In recognition of its long-standing reputation and post-game atmosphere, Cubby Bear has been favorably covered by all local outlets as well as Maxim magazine and Sports Illustrated. Former Cubs Mark Grace and Kyle Farnsworth allegedly used to go here, but one has to wonder: where didn’t they go while playing in Chicago? I guess they had to get away from the Lodge and Tai’s til 4 every now and then, respectively. Strangely, Cubby Bear is also the official Chicago Dawgs bar in Chicago (supporting the Cleveland Browns), perhaps as the Browns are a like the Chicago Cubs of the NFL, doh! Cubby Bear is also the most historic Wrigleyville sports bar, dating back to 1953, and having been known through the years as Cubs Tap, Cubs Pub, Cubs Grill, and the Cubby Bear Lounge. Today, the joint is run by George and Patty Loukas, whose daughter Christina represented the US in the 2008 Olympics in diving.

“I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS. Went to the Cubby Bear after a Cubs game and was instantly transported back to my college frat party days. Stacks of beer cans…check. Drunken revelers bumping into each other…check. Random high-fiving for no particular reason…check.”

– Kevin A. on Yelp (April 17, 2007)

If you’re not already drunk, you may not fully appreciate Cubby Bear after a game, considering the aroma of sweat, drunkenness and beer. Keep an eye out for that swaying patron that just might have to lunge for the door in order to surrender the hot dogs deposited earlier. Lines after Cub games feel longer than the Cubs’ current world series drought, so get there when last call is made across the street. If you like Cubby Bear, you’ll probably also like Casey Moran’s and Yak-zie’s a block north, nearby Murphy’s Bleachers (kitty corner from the the Wrigley bleachers entrance), and Joe’s on Weed Street, the latter of which is another enormous sports that hosts cover bands and is like a Cubby Bear South. For more information and a schedule of upcoming bands, check out the Cubby Bear website. Go Cubs go!