The time has finally come for the long overdue review of the Gingerman Tavern* from the Chicago Bar Project. Not to be confused with the Ginger Man Pub chain found in Houston, Dallas, Austin and New York, the Gingerman in Chicago is one of my favorite Wrigleyville bars, though it purposefully avoids being a sports bar, Cubs den or anything remotely similar. Even the lone TV in the front room doesn’t play ESPN, so you’ll have to get your SportsCenter fix elsewhere. That inspires a predominantly local Bohemian atmosphere fueled by an impressive beer selection and a few pool tables thrown in to boot. As such, the Gingerman is a Wrigleyville staple and classic Chicago neighborhood pub amidst the madness that surrounds Wrigley Field on gamedays and weekends.
Once serving as the Grand Slam Tavern, the Gingerman has been located at the southwest corner of Clark and Racine since 1977, just north of Wrigley and Metro-Smart Bar, across from Wrigleysville Dogs (yes, that is spelled correctly), and just down from both Uncommon Ground and Pianoman. If the aquamarine neon sign in the window of Gingerman from the north doesn’t grab you, perhaps the purple sign, with a woman lying with breast exposed on the back of a black panther will – something the crew over at Delilah’s would appreciate, I’m sure. Step through the worn wooden door and be sure to close it in winter or you’ll freeze the bejesus out of everyone in the smallish front room, which appears somewhat larger because of Jagermeister-sponsored mirrors, cleverly placed amongst the eclectic decor and exposed brick. People camp out here at either one of two cocktail tables in front of windows overlooking Clark Street or on a hodgepodge of worn wooden furniture to match the hardwood floor and wooden bar that runs down the northern wall, below an assortment of antique light fixtures. A one-seater women’s can is oddly placed right across from the bar in the front room, and the men’s is right around the corner. For entertainment, the lone TV in front room shows local news and makes the atmosphere conducive for conversation while a selection of alternative, jazz and blues streams from either the jukebox or the bartender-operated house system.
“The Gingerman Tavern, at 3740 North Clark Street, is a tavern in a triangular building. Proprietor Dan Schnitta says: ‘For ten years it’s been a favorite meeting place for young artists, actors and professionals in Wrigleyville and Lakeview neighborhoods. A large party room is also available for private groups. We are the original Gingerman. Our name was copied by the [now-defunct] Division/Rush Street bar, but only we maintain the atmosphere of a Chicago-style neighborhood tavern.’ The Gingerman is a rambling, comfortable room, decorated in primitive tavern, and offering a comfortable sit-down conversational atmosphere. Twenty imported beers are offered here, as well as ten domestic beers. There are doors on two sides of the place, brick walls, lots of windows, mirrors, and tavern-trash decor. The patrons are from the neighborhood or spill over escapees from the Smart Bar or Metro. During the baseball season Wrigley Field provides some fans who spill in here after games, and the place is popular among a mixed crowd of young people.”– Dennis McCarthy, The Great Chicago Bar and Saloon Guide (1985)
Photo courtesy of A.S. V.Behind the bar, Gingerman features an intriguing selection of about a dozen microbrews on tap and far more in bottles, the latter of which are pulled out of a large, ominous metal cooler behind the bar. Gingerman, along with Hopleaf, Quencher’s and Sheffield’s, was actually one of the first bars in Chicago to offer an expanded beer selection (more than just Budweiser and Miller Lite on draft), which many bars have since replicated. It was here at the bar at Gingerman that I once saw an accident through the front windows, where a woman driving an SUV pulling out from Wrigleysville Dogs was hit by a sports car that sped off afterwards – kind of makes you feel all warm inside, doesn’t it? Uggh. Speaking of Wrigleysville Dogs, Gingerman does not serve food, so head over there for a gyro or proper Chicago hot dog, followed by a whiz behind it just like everyone else does.
Additional, alcove-like seating can be found in front of windows overlooking Racine, just beyond the jukebox and the end of the bar. A short hallway, framed with two additional bathrooms, leads into the triangular pool room where a blue and green neon dolphin illuminates a Star Wars pinball machine, Golden Tee and two coin-operated tables perched upon multicolored hexagonal tile that allegedly offer free pool on Sundays and Mondays. “No Gambling,” reads a sign, unlikely to be followed, though Gingerman avoids having any sort of seedy, pool hall-like atmosphere. There is an additional wooden bar in the southeast corner of this room but I can’t recall ever seeing a bartender there, which may or may not have actually been the case upon previous visits.
“The only cool bar in the immediate vicinity of Wrigley Field. There, I’ve said it. And what merits this broad statement? Not so much what the Ginger Man has, but what it lacks in comparison to its neighbors. It lacks: loud fraternity brother-types, watered-down beer, shitty music, vapid, cookie-cutter personalities, and so on, and so on… All in all, a decent bar in pretty indecent territory.”– Dan T. on Yelp! (March 14, 2007)
The somewhat earthy Gingerman draws a scruffy but loyal neighborhood following, with a penchant for smoking cigarettes (now outside). The joint gets crowded after shows let out at Metro, with actually more of the Metro staff coming in than concert-goers, and the crowd from nearby Annoyance Theatre also call Gingerman home. A more preppy crowd comes in on weekends, primarily for the pool. Because it thumbs its nose at its sports bar brethren to the south, Cub fans will have to look elsewhere or risk either being lured into the strangely foreboding Pianoman or subjected to loud classical music should they enter Gingerman. After all, the wooden sign above the door says, “Respect our neighbors, please leave quietly” – something beyond the grasp of many Cub fans as well as just about any Sox fan choosing to soil the Friendly Confines.
“A variety of beat-up chairs, the confusing bathroom scheme, the windows looking onto Clark St. and the big pool room all add up to the finest bar in Wrigleyville. A TV that’s never been sullied with ESPN. Plays Wagner after ball games, ‘Scares the hell out of Cubs fans,’ says the management.”– The Official Chicago Bar Guide (1994)
Though, “Named after the J.P. Donleavy novel about an American hitchhiker in Europe with a taste for liquor, women and roguish behavior,” according to Nicole Grasse, the “Ginger Man” himself, Dan Schnitta, owns the bar and also operates the GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, MI, a flag of which hangs in the window of the second floor. He’s done a great job with “The G-Man,” making it ideal on any night, particularly before shows at Metro where you can watch the line form around the building over a few beers, or after another Cubs loss, if you dare… Gingerman also joins FitzGerald’s in Berwyn as one of the pool rooms filmed in Martin Scorcese’s The Color of Money. You can’t beat that with a stick!
“One final note, Bobby the Harley bouncer stood guard at the door on weekends for many years. Unfortunately, Bobby died in May, 1998. This man was the best bouncer in the city. He was stout, had a handlebar mustache, often wore a beret and was an extremely kind fellow — unless you did something wrong. For years I started and ended my evenings at the Ginger Man. I’ve had some wonderful times there and Bobby was a big part of the fun. I’ll never forget him and I’ll surely miss him.”-Barfly’s Guide to Chicago’s Drinking Establishments (2000)