Editor’s Note: the Alumni Club has gone the way of its predecessors Jukebox Saturday Night, Rodeo and Vibes Lounge, as it has been completely transformed. The sports bar-restaurant on the first floor, formerly known as Moretti’s, has become The Lion Head Pub – an English styled pub. Sadly, NTN has gone as not many came to play it there anymore and the revolving door is history as well. In addition, the upstairs lounge has morphed into The Apartment, the goal of which has been to create a dance club that would attract the black leather jacket crowd, result in artificially long lines outside, and compete head-to-head with John Barleycorn’s just up the street. The grand opening for both the Lion Head Pub and The Apartment took place in November 2002. The other Alumni Club locations remain open.
“Bibo ergo sum – I drink, therefore I am”
Wedged between Kendall’s and O’Malley’s West, the Alumni Club stands out as one of the best sports bars on this bar-saturated corridor on Lincoln Avenue. The Alumni Club on Lincoln is the most recent addition to the Chicagoland chain. It joins its smaller, debaucherous brother on Division Street, its roadhouse cousins in Schaumberg and Lombard, and its “businessman” version in the Loop. Downstairs at the Lincoln location is a great place to catch the game, while the upstairs is offers a pretty good dance club scene on the weekend.
The Alumni Club can be spotted by its valet parking sign and green and yellow awning out front. Step up to the only revolving door I have seen at a bar in Chicago, and through to the headset mic-wearing bouncer. Show your ID, and you’re in Moretti’s, which is what the Alumni Club calls its first floor bar.
The name “Moretti’s” is meant to imply the availability of good Italian food, but has become increasingly inaccurate. When the Lincoln location opened a few years ago, the Alumni Club offered a fairly extensive menu of standard pub grub. Now the “Good Eats” menu has been slimmed down significantly, and the quality is hit or miss. I ordered chicken fingers and received only three. There was more garnish than chicken. On the other hand, the hot chicken wings were fantastic, second only to bw-3. Additionally, burgers at the Club have been rated highly by the Chicago Tribune, but no one I know has ever raved about them, while competitor John Barleycorn’s up the block also claims they have the best burger in the city. For the record, the best burger I’ve had in Chicago is the Gorgonzola Burger found at J.T. Collins. Curiously, there is red tissue paper pasted on the door of the kitchen at the Alumni Club on Lincoln, perhaps to prevent you from getting an accurate picture of what’s going on in there. Overall the food is decent, but the service is usually severely lacking. This is particularly disturbing given the army of busboys they have. The Alumni Club always seems short on attentive waitresses. And, like so many other Chicago bars, orders are taken by the waitress but the food is “served” by busboys that can’t speak English and don’t know who ordered what (leading to confusion and frustration by both parties).
I got excited on a recent visit, when the waitress was very attentive during the first half of the game, but was not to be found afterwards. One time, upon being served a calzone by a busboy, the waitress came over while I was in the middle of eating it, claiming that it was not what I ordered and that it should be given to the person that had ordered it. Never mind that it was half finished, but it was what I had ordered. The ensuing argument was not what I needed, and her tip suffered for it in the end. They no longer serve calzone. Disappointing at best.
If you can put up with the sub-standard service, or sit at the bar, the Club is one of my favorite places to see a game in Chicago. The Alumni Club boasts 40 televisions, which allows a table of six to watch the game on different TVs without even turning their neck (not an exaggeration). The Club is also known for its proliferation of college sports memorabilia; including old pictures of lacrosse teams, commemorative bowling tins, college football helmets, fraternity paddles, and school pennants to go with the hanging plants and exposed brick walls. In addition, the bathrooms are large, do not have attendants, and there is rarely a line.
Upon a recent visit, I noticed a few changes. The waitresses used to wear baseball jerseys but now wear black, they no longer have NTN interactive trivia, and a whole row of tables was removed to put in two new wooden pool tables. While these tables are nice with their red felt and gargoyle feet, one of them is so close to the remaining tables that it is rendered virtually useless unless you want to start a fight. There is additional seating in booths, and around the rectangular bar on the other side of the room. Additional entertainment can be had on two electronic dartboards, Maximum Hangtime and a Golden Tee machine that draws a crowd that blocks your way to the can. Cigar aficionados will be grateful to know that they still sell cigars out of the humidor, located behind the rarely manned, tiny counter next to the revolving door.
If you’re looking for dancing or more of a loungey atmosphere, head through the glass door and up the stairs to “the Loft.” If you get there after 9:00 p.m., expect to pay a $3 cover. Here you will find a very large room complete with a large bar, a lounge area, skylights, a fireplace, even more televisions, seven big screens, a dance floor with funky lights, a DJ booth, and a party room that used to have pool tables. It was here, at the oddly-shaped upstairs bar, where I learned that Australians refer to the shot we call the Slippery Nipple (a.k.a., Buttery Nipple, both made with Bailey’s and ButterScotch Schnapps) as the “Cock-Sucking Cowboy.” This, like the Aussie fascination with beetroot, is yet another in a long list of why things are strange, bizarre and generally fucked-up Down Under. Yeh, Bob’s yer uncle mate. The lounge area is filled with 60’s style furniture, including two chairs in the shape of a hand, and is ideal for ruminating over how pathetic the White Sox are and for planning late-night activities. As the evening progresses, the games are turned off and the place turns into a full-blown disco. This is particularly notable because the Alumni Club tends to attract some of the cutest girls I have seen in the city. Perhaps it is a combination of this as well as drinking from plastic, big-mouthed bottles of Lite and Budweiser that leads to all the fights. It is not a rare occurrence to see several cops storm into the place to quell a brawl in the Loft.
The Alumni Club is one of 17 businesses owned by Ala Carte Entertainment, which includes Excalibur, Vison Nightclub, Cadillac Ranch, Snuggery, Deja Vu, Finn McCool’s, and the Leg Room. While the service is weak, the Alumni Club is still a great place to see a game, scoot a boot, and maybe get in a fight.
Example of conversation heard at the Alumni Club: “Your breath smells like a wet block of cheese in stale coffee.”