With its prime location in the heart of Roscoe Village, Riverview Tavern has become a staple of the neighborhood, giving nearby favorites Village Tap and Four Moon Tavern a run for their money. Riverview Tavern also serves as the closest thing to a museum of the Riverview Amusement Park, once located a few blocks away at Belmont & Western. Those who remember “Shooting the Chutes” at Riverview Amusement Park (closed in 1964) will love the memorabilia at the tavern, and everyone enjoys the food, named after old Riverview rides.
Riverview Tavern is the latest inhabitant, here at the northeast corner of Roscoe & Damen and across from Mulligan’s, though it has already outlasted predecessors Red Wine Room (and Sipario’s), and Damen Bar & Grill, before that. Not much is known as to what operated before “The Damen,” but a speakeasy allegedly operated during Prohibition here. The building housing Riverview Tavern is a three flat covered in beige aluminum siding, faux-shingled at the corners. The annex on the Roscoe side houses Robey Pizza, a pizza carry-out joint also owned by Spare Time and formerly part of the bar (a very entertaining review of which can be found here). Access to the tavern is found on the Damen side, about midway down the forest green-painted façade, and under the tavern’s name spelled out in large, gold-painted wooden lettering and another tasteful offering from The Wooden Sign Company. You’ll have to squeeze your way through the leafy sidewalk café, enormously popular with Roscoe Villagers some of whom took advantage of the same when this part of the building hosted Sipario’s Italian restaurant.
Step through the door at Riverview and you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of a well-appointed, long barroom with hardwood floors and walls painted green and beige. In front of you stands a beautiful old Brunswick bar of dark wood, with a giant mirrored backdrop framed by stately columns. Grab a seat at one of the high-backed wooden barstools, from which you can gaze longingly at about a dozen ales, dispensed from a vintage brass fixture. To the right of the entrance are a couple of booths along the western wall, across from which is an L-shaped hallway leads to the spacious restrooms. A passage through the southern wall leads to an additional room, but you’ll likely not be able to take advantage of this space unless you rent it out (which seems to be a rare occurrence from what I have observed) – which is a real shame considering that it’s the best spot in the whole tavern, given its large windows, corner location and airy feel… not to mention its additional bar, pool table and a seating at low-slung wooden tables. Good God, free this space! Previous owners used this area for the main entrance and bar when it was both Red and The Damen.
Back in the main bar, additional seating is found in roomy booths along both the eastern and western walls, as wall as at a gigantic cocktail island in the middle of the room that is a favorite spot for obnoxious, bar-sponsored softball teams after games. The obligatory flatpanels are located throughout the room. Just beyond the north end of the bar is another passage leading to the back room. This square space of exposed brick is not rented, but rather serves both as overflow from the main room and as an arcade, given the bubble hockey, electronic darts and Golden Tee. Additional seating is available at a few low-slung wooden tables here, but this is not where you’ll want to be if you’re there for food.
As referenced by its moniker, Riverview Tavern is named for the Riverview Amusement Park. Before there was Great America in Gurnee, Chicagoans found entertainment at places like Riverview, as well as at other fellow throwbacks, like Kiddieland in Melrose Park (still operating) and Dispensa’s Kiddie Kingdom in Oakbrook Terrace (now the site of the tallest office building in the suburbs). Having grown up in the western suburbs, I was especially fond of Kiddie Kingdom until it closed in 1984. Riverview Amusement Park operated from 1904 until 1967, and spanned 74 acres from Belmont to Roscoe and Lane Tech High School, and Western to the north branch of the Chicago River (now occupied by a strip mall, police station and DeVry University). The Riverview Tavern commemorates Riverview Amusement Park in its décor, with black & white photos, Kewpie dolls placed on high shelves, and wooden signs, including a large memorial mural of the park on the northern wall. Menu items at Riverview are named for some of the rides at the park, such as The Bobs, Silver Flash and The Comet (a vegetarian favorite with avocado, lettuce, tomato, mozzarella, cilantro pesto served on French bread). These are attractions that my parents used to ride when they were kids in Chicago, back in the 1950s. In fact, this is what led them to choose the Riverview Tavern on one of their visits to the city, which was the first time they met my wife-to-be. The menu consists of the usual appetizers, a good selection of $6 salads, a tasty selection of $6-$8 sandwiches—all of which are enormous and served in plastic baskets that could hold a pizza but instead hold a mound of fries—and a brief selection of comfort food like the “RFC” Dinner (four pieces of fried-chicken, mashed taters and green beans) and chicken pot pie. Click here for the entire menu. The Riverview Tavern menu holds up pretty well for pub grub given stiff competition from other notable Roscoe Village restaurants, including Kitsch’n (kind of a like a museum for the 70s and 80s, complete with Magic 8 Balls on every table, as well as a backyard patio and intriguing menu), Volo (excellent food and a relaxed beer garden with cabanas, sometimes used for small wedding receptions) and, my personal favorite, El Tinajon (Guatemalan).
The crowd at Riverview Tavern consists primarily of condo dwellers that head in after work for dinner, and both families and those suffering from hangovers for brunch on weekends (an interesting mix), as well as the occasional, somewhat more “aged” visitors who come to reminisce about their once-favorite amusement park. Ah, good times. Riverview is also one of the few pubs around that serves lunch during the week – when Roscoe Village transforms into Strollerville with all of the stay-at-home-moms and nannies descending upon it like hens coming home to roost, just as they do at Cullen’s on Southport. Though the space is great, service is average at best and you can’t help but feel that the place is owned by absentee landowners. In this case, the bar is owned by the Spare Time empire that also includes Daily Bar & Grill, Firehouse, Seven Ten, Robey Pizza Company (adjacent to Riverview), Southport Lanes, and Popkin Tavern (in Richmond, Virginia). For more information, check out the Riverview Tavern website and laugh your troubles away!