The Dram Shop can only be described as an odd little dive, in the most literal sense. Once attracing a creepy clientele, Dram Shop now caters to a straight, yet slightly adventurous neighborhood crowd as well as some of the old-school regulars. I had eyed the joint suspiciously for years and, after a bit of Dutch courage in the form of several Half Acre pints at Wilde, I cajoled a friend into stepping in for a nightcap. Upon entering, I took an instant liking to the Dram Shop and my trepidation eroded faster than my 401(k). The Dram Shop is named for a lesser known law intended to punish those who inflict harm on others as a result of drinking devil juice and, if it weren’t for the Matchbox, Dram Shop may be the smallest bar in Chicago but is instead the smallest bar in East Lakeview, just edging out Joe’s on Broadway a little further north.
Dram Shop is located on Broadway, just south of Barry Avenue, in a single-story building with multiple storefronts, including Stella’s Diner at the corner with its giant plaster fist holding cutlery above its door. If it weren’t for the Old Style sign advertising “COLD BEER,” you might never spot the bar at all as “DRAM,” written above a neon Miller Lite sign, is the only indication of the bar’s identity.
Step through the plate glass door and you’ll discover a one-room space with a wooden bar that runs about half its length, sporting Guinness and Spaten on tap. $2 PBRs are also a crowd favorite. Good show, Dram Shop. Two flatpanel TVs hang above the bar upon the faux wood-paneled north wall, matching the faux brick on the wall opposite, both of which are complimented by a purple paint job. Though the smoking ban is now over a year old, the carpet at Dram Shop does its best to remind us of those carefree nicotine days of yore by retaining all those years of smoke. Impressively worn, high-backed, red-vinyl barstools stand at a table overlooking Broadway through long plate-glass windows. Here you’ll also find a graffiti-like mural just inside the door under a fake “Dram Shop” street sign. A jukebox can be found in the rear, across from the tiny can once allegedly used by Cameron Diaz. An incongruously placed Chargers banner hangs upon the back wall. The Dram Shop doesn’t serve food but sometimes features complimentary sustenance on holidays, including a crock pot of corned beef & cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.
For those of you tort enthusiasts, the term “dram shop” refers to a watering hole where spirits are sold, with “a dram” meaning a small unit (i.e. serving) of alcohol. “Dram shop liability” refers to laws aimed at punishing those causing physical harm or death via accidents like drunken driving to third parties who were not involved directly in the partaking of dram [insert Homer Simpson voice: “ummm, dram”].
“Divey, not dirty. Vintage, not retro.”– MsAnthro P. on Yelp (April 1, 2008)
Now, I could be wrong about this but, when I lived around the corner about 10 years ago, I used to avoid the Dram Shop as it seemed to attract a predominantly middle-aged, creepy crowd of men that I’m 95% sure were mostly LGBTQ+ friendly. At some point recently, the Dram Shop seems to have changed ownership and is now described as a friendly place open to everyone. Upon my first visit, I found what seemed to be a fairly regular Lakeview crowd. With Monsignor Murphy’s across the street, Friar Tuck just to the south and the over-priced Wilde just to the north, across from Brendan’s Pub, this stretch of Broadway’s got pub crawl written all over it. And the fun begins daily at 7am. For more information, the Dram Shop doesn’t have a website, so you’ll have to call them. Truth be told, I could go for some dram right about now…