“Positively No Dancing”
The Twin Anchors stands out as one of the most notable rib joints in the city. Especially impressive is that Twin Anchors remains unknown to many, even though it has been in business for over 75 years and has served what many claim are the best baby back ribs in the city. While many suburbanites and conventioneers stick with the steakhouses further south, Old Town neighborhood-types and savvy North Side diners pack the place almost every night. Add to that patronage from Old Blue Eyes himself as well as other local celebs, and Twin Anchors has become a Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmark in this beautiful area of town known as the Old Town Triangle District. The Twin is also a great place to have a cocktail and listen to the Rat Pack on the jukebox.
The building currently housing Twin Anchors dates back to at least 1881, though it was listed in 1873 as being the residence of butcher Lewis Ketzel and policeman John Quirk (it is unknown if this was the same building). As early as 1890, the first floor was operated as a saloon until Prohibition, when the place was run as a speakeasy called, “Tante Lee Soft Drinks,” operated by Don and Ethel Humphreys out of the rear, and who had the windows in the front boarded up to imply vacancy while the party carried on inside. A pair named Bob Walters and Herb Eldean opened the Twin Anchors we all know and love today. At that time, both men were members of the Chicago Yacht Club and so applied the semi-nautical theme. The place did not originally have a kitchen but, rather, Bob’s wife became well known for cooking dinner for pub-goers on Sunday nights. The ribs where a big hit and a kitchen was later built out of the building next door (once a school supply store) to accommodate the increasing demand (and to give Bob’s wife a break). The Tuzi family then took ownership of the Twin in 1978, remodeled it in 1990 and has continued to operate this legendary establishment in a manner that preserves the ambiance of a bygone era.
With its Budweiser sign hanging out front at the corner of Sedgwick Street and Eugenie, Twin Anchors doesn’t look like much more than a typical neighborhood tavern similar to that of Rose’s in Lincoln Park or Johnnie’s in Lakeview. However, walk up the concrete steps, under the green and white awning, through the wooden double doors, and you’ll find yourself in the only cocktail and ribs joint in the city. There is a long mahogany bar to your right, originally donated by Schlitz Brewing Company, and seating is available either in the leather, half-moon booths opposite the bar and under the gigantic backlit Chicago skyline, or against the wall on either side of the front door. Wood paneling stretches from the brown and white linoleum floor to the matching drop ceiling, the latter of which oddly angles downward at the sides. There are a few televisions at the bar where you can watch the Cubs, and the rest of the room is decorated with pictures of Chicago and newspaper articles written on the Twin Anchors itself. While they may have been popular here at one time, cigars, pipes and cloves are strictly prohibited, as is dancing of any kind. The latter can be particularly difficult considering the variety of Rat Pack tunes on the jukebox, located where the shufflepuck bowling once was. Many feel the jukebox has one of the best selections in all of Chicago, even though you’ll not find anything past 1980.
Truth be told, the dancing prohibition is really more of the tongue-in-cheek variety that has become the official mantra of Twin Anchors, and is now proudly displayed on their t-shirts. The original sign still hangs above the wrought iron archway that forms the entrance to the dining room, just beyond the front room. As you can probably guess, the sign stems from a strange and bygone era: disco. Back when the great unwashed found songs like, “The Hustle,” a force that would cause them to writhe uncontrollably and bump into tables and servers, causing more than a few plates of ribs to hit the floor prior to consumption. Add to that the city’s desire to levy an additional tax on taverns in the form of a “cabaret license,” and the slogan, “Positively No Dancing,” was born.
The restaurant area is somewhat small but is filled with low-slung, Formica-topped tables and seats up to 60 people. This room is decorated with two giant wooden anchors and a ship’s wheel, placed within a glass case at the back, and tiny white lights with pink plastic pigs adorn the top of the walls. My recommendation: come during the week as weekend waits can exceed two hours even for small parties, and they only take reservations for parties of six or more. If it feels a bit cramped, don’t worry – it could be worse: the small alcove now housing the soda fountain once is where a three-piece band was once forced to play…
The baby back ribs are the biggest draw here at the Twin, and locals, critics and tourists alike rave about them. The ribs are usually so tender, they fall off the bone and their zesty sauce is so popular that they will ship sauce orders anywhere in the U.S. While the ribs are great, the filet mignon and New York strip holds up well (tip: order yours basted in the oh-so-healthy garlic butter). I was also impressed that you could get onion rings with your order, in addition to the usual choice of fries or a baked potato. The Twin also serves a few salads and sandwiches, but altogether has a somewhat limited menu. Get the ribs or New York Strip and you won’t have to worry about it.
The Twin Anchors’ claim to fame, aside from the food, is being the site of the film Return to Me, in which the bar serves as the setting for the Italian restaurant, curiously named O’Reilly’s, where the character played by Minnie Driver works as a waitress. Director Bonnie Hunt, who also plays a part in the movie, chose the Twin Anchors in part because she is a longtime patron. The Twin was also a favorite hangout for Frank Sinatra when he was in town in the 60’s and 70’s – he preferred the booth to the right of side door, that today leads out to the sidewalk cafe. Twin Anchors is also a favorite to a number of other local celebrities, like Valerie Harper, Ryne Sandberg, Bill Murray, William Peterson, John Cusack, and Rod Blagojevich. Even Marge would come in, when taking a break from her place down the street. According to Richard Saul Wurman in Access Chicago, the Tuzi family describe the scene as, “People from around the world show up after having heard about it over beers in Germany, or during a snowstorm in Switzerland.” I found patrons consisting mainly of wealthier neighborhood types, some older, some younger. With all this history, word-of-mouth appeal and 1950s feel, I was somewhat unimpressed by the jeans and t-shirt wearing staff that were not nearly as attentive as you would expect for a $60 meal for two.
“One of the original owner/partners was Herb Eldean, the unofficial ‘harbormaster’ of Monroe Harbor for many years. He was a very good friend of my father. His sons, Herb and Roger, own and manage the Eldean Shipyard in Macatawa, Michigan. The have a fantastic restaurant, The Piper. I frequented the Twin Anchors from 1958-1960. Great food. I believe members of the Blackhawks frequented the restaurant. I did observe Erik Nesterenko and friends there one evening.”
– M (P) C (November 2, 2004)
“The place was similar to what you describe in your article, except I remember entering through a side glass door. The anchors and ships wheel were mounted behind the bar and I don’t recall any pigs. There may have been twinkle lights. In the bar room were a few chrome and Formica tables and the jukebox and in the small main dining room to the left, there were more of the same tables and chairs. As I recall, the floors were vinyl tile. The juke box did have fantastic records. The patrons were mainly locals and recent college grads, like my friends and I. The prices were quite reasonable and the ribs and hamburgers were fantastic. I spent a lot of weekends at the Old Town Pump at Wells and Eugenie (it’s gone now). After a few brews at the Pump, my friends and I would meander down to the Anchor for a couple more brews and a bite to eat.”– M.C. (June 4, 2004)
In a city dominated by rib houses like Carson’s, Chicago Joe’s, and Smoke Daddy, as well as steakhouses like Morton’s, Gibson’s and Smith & Wollensky’s, Twin Anchors stands on its own. For many years, Twin Anchors has been voted as having the Best Ribs in numerous Chicago polls. Zagat’s rates the Twin Anchors overall as having very good food, nice decor and good service – you’re bound to leave, “stuffed, sticky and satisfied.”
Not only is the food excellent (I’ve had both the ribs and steak), but the atmosphere is very friendly and down to earth (though quite noisy on the weekends). Whether you’re there for the ribs or the cocktails, you’re sure to find something at the Twin to your liking. For more information, check out the Twin Anchors website. Ahoy, matey.
Excerpt from Jory Graham’s 1967 Chicago, an Extraordinary Guide:
“Long before there was an Old Town, the college crowd discovered this one – an old neighborhood tavern that at some time in its past added a kitchen as a kind of afterthought. The old-timers who spent their evenings and weekends at the bar and rightfully regarded the place as theirs weren’t very happy about the squeeze, and for years the air was thick with the impact of two totally different groups mutually trying to claim the same space. The neighborhood diehards survived, of course, and still sit on their barstools carefully ignoring everyone but their own cronies. Ribs and good black bread are the reason for coming here.”