Since moving into Wrigleyville (all the way from Roscoe Village), Guthries Tavern has become my local. This has been a significant development for me as my first visit to Guthries came about eight years after I moved into the city. While in my manic single years, I didn’t have much time or need for quirky neighborhood bars as they weren’t where I thought I’d find what I was looking for. The funny thing is, Guthries is a great place to meet people – it’s inviting, offers many of your childhood favorite board games with which you can break the ice with a “special new friend,” is so much calmer than the Bedlam surrounding it, and you’ll never have to yell over blaring music to be heard. Guthries has even become the place for “Dating for Nerds,” though from what I’ve seen, the place actually attracts some decent talent. Regardless, Guthries is indeed a great tavern whether you’re with friends, your main squeeze or on your own – not bad for a one-time LGBTQ+ friendly Latin biker bar. Though this review is long overdue, it’s my way of honoring Guthries during its 20th anniversary year.
As written by The Real Chicago in their profile of Guthries as the Bar of the Month in January 2002, the establishment, “Served as a grocery store during prohibition but has been a bar since 1933. Named after J.B. Guthrie, a prominent developer in Lakeview in the late 1800s.” Guthries Tavern is located at Lakewood and Addison, steps from Wrigley Field to the east and the busy Southport Corridor to the west, the latter of which is filled with bars like Take Five, Cullen’s, Mystic Celt, and Justin’s, just to name a few. The two-story, gabled building housing Guthries features a beige-painted brick and wooden façade with “Tavern” tastefully stenciled on both of its large picture windows overlooking Addison and under a nicely appointed “Guthries Tavern” sign, recently affixed. Walk up a few steps to the brightly painted, red wooden door and you’ll be carded by the doorman usually only if there’s a Cubs game that night.
“While Guthries is located just on the outer banks of Wrigleyville, it has somehow managed to remain a neighborhood place that welcomes all. Its location as a corner bar makes it intrinsically a place for rampart alcoholism and degenerate behavior, but in a good way.”– Shecky’s Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002
Once inside, you’ll find yourself opposite a wooden bar that runs the length of the western wall in the front room, which is tiled in laminated blue and beige. Guthries features a nice variety of about 40 microbrews, imports and blue collar specials, including La Fin du Monde, Chimay, a well-pulled pint of Guinness, seasonal offerings from the Sierra Nevada and Bells Breweries, Old Style and Hamm’s. Some of the above are featured on tap and all are nicely illustrated in a laminated, multi-page menu that also lists the varieties of wine, sangria and spiced apple cider available. Guthries does not feature a jukebox, so the bartenders play CDs pulled from a rather large stack behind the bar, found under a Mr. Potato Head and a stuffed mouse. It was here at the bar where I was once told the story of how a friend-of-a-friend picked up two femininas by saying, “You’ve been looking over here all night. How come you bitches aren’t over there talking to us?” Astonishingly, it worked. The high-backed, green-padded wooden stools fill up fast at the bar, so if you’re not quick enough to snag one of those, grab one of the two low-slung tables with checkered tablecloths, lamps and votive candles up front (this is where you’ll usually find me). There’s also a series of thick wooden cocktail tables along the eastern wall, below wooden shelving filled with books and an interesting variety of kickshaws, and from which hang string lights and the tavern’s collection of ceramic beer mugs. Though there are a few ceiling fans, they do little to clear out the smoke, which is one of the few criticisms people have of Guthries.
More cocktail and low-slung wooden tables can be found at the rear of the bar, topped by more checkered tablecloths except for one topped with a laminated map and another one with a small lighthouse that intermittently turns on and off. The walls in the backroom are covered in faux wooden paneling that seems to be a staple of divey Lakeview bars. Guthries has far too much personality to be considered a dive, though the one-seater bathrooms vie for that distinction, at least in the mensroom with its small mountain of used brown hand-toweling often stacked so high in the trash as it threatens to crush a man in the midst of urination were it to topple over. The window is also blocked by a green-painted wooden panel for some reason, which might be better with at least a hole cut in the top so that those preferring to deposit an homage to Guthries, rather than doing so at home, don’t have to foul the air in the backroom when opening the door… Anyway, the backroom walls are adorned by framed paintings of nautical and wildlife scenes, and an impressive number of postcards affixed to the wall in the northwest corner, just under the room’s lone television and display of Guthries clothing for sale (t-shirts $15 and sweatshirts $20). In the evenings, 1-2 waitresses serve the backroom, as well as the back, backroom that is really more of a back porch. This area is accessible through a wooden door with large plate glass window and features plastic tables and chairs, a white-painted overhang and posters of famous paintings along the western wall. While sometimes the enclosed back porch at Guthries is described as a beer garden, it isn’t though there is an actual garden just beyond it.
“You sank my battleship!”
In-between the maroon and forest-green painted doors to the ladies’ and mens’ rooms, respectively, in the backroom, is a bookcase that stretches from floor to ceiling that is choked with a vast array of board games that would make those at Newport Bar & Grill envious. There you’ll find all your favorites, including Boggle, Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Pictionary, Uno, Clue, Balderdash, Chutes and Ladders, Scattagories, Don’t Break the Ice, Connect Four, Checkers, Battleship, Operation (particularly interesting after a few drinks), and Candyland. Now that we are adults (ahem), you’ll also find Dirty Minds, Marry, Date or Dump, What If… and the game my wife first encountered at Guthries and now one that I have to endure on a semi-regular basis, Battle of the Sexes. We once played Jenga at Guthries and found that many of the wooden tiles had little questions and ditties, like “What is the definition of ‘teabagging’?” and “What is Bob Dylan’s real name?” I later lost $5 after betting that my friend couldn’t put another tile on the stack. Though he has little coordination or athletic ability, he surprised me in this accomplishment, just as he did when he successfully bowled a strike from the seats at the now-defunct Marigold Bowl when I bet him $20 that he couldn’t. It turns out that, whenever a wager is on the line, he develops obscure superhuman abilities designed to part me from my money. I should have known better as this is a guy that once broke up with a girl because she liked to dine in restaurants too much. On another occasion, we played Trivial Pursuit with one pie too few so we had to tear off part of a matchbook. As luck would have it, I got stuck with the “matchbook pie” along with the most slices, which found their way all over the board whenever someone rolled the die. We also played the Genus 2000 Edition, which asked some bizarre questions – one of the answers was the country of Eritrea. Enough said.
“One night while we were playing Monopoly, a passing possum paused and stared at as through the big front windows.”– The Official Chicago Bar Guide (1994)
The décor at Guthries transitions from the characteristic to the intriguingly eclectic as your eye travels up the wall, past the stone Roman-esque trim above the bar and to the drop ceiling. Along with a few water stains, most of the panels are adorned by local artwork, posters and the occasional photograph. Some of the more notable panels include one adorned with 77 plastic baby doll heads (nearly as creepy as the car that I’ve seen parked in Noble Square covered in plastic baby doll “parts”), and one depicting a woman right out of Sugar’s song, A Good Idea, lying in water with head and hands extending out from the panel. This is perhaps even more notable as, rather surprisingly, Guthries does not display any Cubs paraphernalia. Given the recent state of the Chicago Cubs, neither do I despite being a lifelong fan.
What really impresses me about Guthries is the hospitality of the waitresses and bartenders, particularly when it comes to the food situation. Guthries does not have a kitchen but offers pretzels with German mustard and does serve food of the microwaved variety, including frozen pizza, White Castle sliders and mozzarella cheese sticks. However, if you’d like something else, not only can you bring in your own food, and not only do they allow you to have deliveries made to the bar, but they also will give you a coffee can full of takeout menus with paint stirrers separating the categories of Italian, Asian and “Other.” There are more menus in that can than restaurants in Chicago that I knew delivered. Who knew Smokin’ Woody’s delivers? The staff at Guthries will give you paper plates and plastic silverware with your food – how cool is that? The Tamale Man also makes a nightly appearance.
Like the Red Lion Pub and Gold Star, Guthrie’s also seems to have its very own apparition – much like the Cubs do with being haunted by the Ghost of World Series past… According to Johnny Masiulewicz’s review in Barfly’s Guide to Chicago’s Drinking Establishments (2000), “Whoever the ghost is, it most often times has manifested itself with ghostly footsteps across the floor, usually after closing and usually when the remaining employees are working in the basement. The last time it happened, upon hearing the footsteps a bartender rushed up these basement stairs and the steps immediately stopped when he reached the top. The bartender saw no one.” He goes on to say, “The owner of the bar, however, has seen the ghost: it was standing in an upstairs window and was dressed in what appeared to be a 19th Century-style military uniform.” One of the long-time bartenders that I know personally has also heard from others working in the bar that they’ve heard footsteps upstairs after closing time, which is believed by some to be the spirit of a former owner that died on the premises, from alcoholism of course… much like Frank Giff of Ole St. Andrew’s and the former owner of Bucktown Pub.
While Guthries is a neighborhood bar, you’ll not find crusty, Slaughtered Lamb-looking regulars at the bar that incessantly complain about all the yuppies that moved in and ruined the once gang-ridden neighborhood. You’ll also not find the place overrun with suburban Cub fans or those from further afield that have strayed from their coach. Guthries instead attracts a predominantly younger crowd from the area and actually gets pretty crowded on weekends as well as during the week. Many come with dates or their buddies as well as a few on the prowl prior to heading out to John Barleycorn’s Wrigleyville, Casey Moran’s or Bar Celona. In fact, Guthries recently hosted “Dating for Nerds,” put on by Nerds at Heart, which urged single locals to, “Unleash your inner geek alongside other brainy acts… You can go head-to-head in a trivia competition or show off your moves over a board game–but please, leave the pocket protector at home.” Guthries is also a frequent meeting place for those involved in the non-profit volunteer organization “One Brick” and “The Chicago board games Meetup Group.”
For some reason prior to my first visit, I thought Guthries was a pretentious neighborhood bar but I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. In fact, Guthries is a fun place full of character, making it unique amongst the cookie-cutter sterility that is all too common nowadays, and was the place I chose to be interviewed by The Onion. This is why Guthries has been a Wrigleyville mainstay since it opened in 1986. Guthries closes at 2am every day except for 3am on Saturdays, so if you haven’t had your fill, head over to nearby Tommy Tai’s (a.k.a. Tai’s til 4), further down Addison and around the corner on Ashland Avenue. Parking for Guthries may be found along Addison but do you really want to parallel park while taxis and drunk drivers speed haphazardly around you? Walk or take a cab instead. Normally, this is where I would add a hyperlink to the bar’s website, but Guthries doesn’t have one, so if you want more information you’ll have to go old-school and pick up the phone. Just remember: it takes a steady hand…
“Right here, diagonally!”
“Pretty sneaky sis.”