“Peddling fine food & drink”
Handlebar is a biker bar, though of the non-motorized variety. Indeed, love of cyclery forms one of the core tenants of Handlebar: the advocacy of bicycle transportation over cars. Continuing in their socially conscious spirit, Handlebar also features a mostly vegetarian menu, supports local and regional brewers, displays velocipede-related paraphernalia and furnishings, and offers a large
beer gardenin summer.
Handlebar is located within the base of a three-story graystone on the south side of North Avenue, just east of Western Avenue. Pass through a simple plate-glass door and those who wish to be seated inside will be shown by the hostess to a handful of low-slung wooden tables in front of two large plate glass windows overlooking North Avenue. A smallish wooden bar runs a third of the length of the western wall and features a half-dozen barstools made from bicycle rims and tires by Andy Greg of Blackstone Bicycle Works. Behind the bar are a series of metal cabinets, instead of the usual backbar, that are peppered with colorful bicycling paraphernalia, including fliers, magnets, stickers, beer signs, and a set of Texas longhorns.
A long aisle leads to the beer garden in the back. Through the door and on your right, under wooden stairs leading to the upper floors, lies a smoker’s lounge in park bench-like seating. Throughout the rest of the beer garden are low-slung metal tables and chairs. A colorful but peeling mural is painted on the brick building next door, though is shaded by an overhang of wood and green plastic. This artwork dates back to Handlebar’s Colombian restaurant predecessor, La Cumbamba. The beer garden is otherwise surrounded by a high, partially ivy-covered wooden fence, as well as a green-painted metal gate at the south end that is no longer used but lies in front of a large bike rack for patron parking. Planters and metal brewery signs round out the beer garden’s décor.
Handlebar serves about a dozen beers on tap and 26 more in bottles. The intriguing selection features ale from Chicagoland area breweries Goose Island, Metropolitan, Three Floyds, and Two Brothers, along with their worthy regional counterparts like Bell’s, Dark Horse and Great Lakes. In addition to your craft ales and lagers, Handlebar also has demonstrated a penchant for the more curiously flavored brews, most recently including ginger, pumpkin and raspberry.
A large kitchen opposite the bar pumps out a menu consisting entirely of vegetarian and fish appetizers and entrées. The seitan nachos, chili quesadillas and veggie samosas are recommended, as are the black beans maduro (beans, rice, plantains, and cheese), fish tacos, African ground nut stew, and blackened tofu fajitas. The apple crisp is a hit for dessert. Handlebar also serves breakfast & lunch starting at 10am daily and until 2pm on weekdays and 3pm on weekends that features biscuits & gravy, huevos diablos and the “always reliable” breakfast burrito. Sloppy Joes are a big hit in winter and bike messengers get free fries every Monday.
As you would imagine for a Wicker Park bicycle hangout, you’ll find a crowd that features more tattoos, piercings and tattered clothing than you can shake a stick at, along with some funky facial hair but no handlebar mustaches as of yet. In addition to loving what the French once called “boneshakers,” Handlebar also serves as advocates for Chicago Critical Mass, Break the Gridlock, Chicagoland Bicycle Foundation, Cycling Sisters, Bike Winter, Bike Geeks, Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, Rat Patrol, and Campaign for a Free & Clear Lakefront. They even go on bike rides every day at 7pm when it snows over two inches.
I can ride my bike with no handlebars
Look at me, look at me
hands in the air like it’s good to be
– lyrics from The Flobots song “Handlebars” (2008)
Handlebar opened February 16, 2003 by former Goose Island brewer Josh Deth. Originally conceived as a brewpub, Deth and his partners instead transformed La Cumbamba into an ode to cycling. Though it seems sacrilegious to mention it, street parking on North Avenue is quite easy if you drive. For more information, check out the Handlebar website. Now watch out—on your left… your other left!
“Cyclists always welcome”