The Beachwood Inn was just beyond my grasp for years. Why? Perhaps it was its odd, corner-behind-a-corner location, or maybe it’s because those who love it keep quiet about it. Whatever the case, I’m glad I found Beachwood and wish that it was closer to me. What may look like a sports bar from its exterior sign and neon homage to Chicago sports, is actually a classic Wicker Park corner bar with the usual scruffsters as its main clientele, who have replaced a blue collar crowd that were chased off with recent condo development. Beachwood is very chill and, unless you’re one of the lucky regulars, it’s a place you definitely want to come with friends to have a go on one of the boardgames or to play pool, listen to 80s tunes and drink a bevy of cheap booze.
The Beachwood Inn is is set back a few steps beyond the intersection of Milwaukee & Wood and, rather than being part of a Budweiser commercial, gets its name from its location at the corner of Beach & Wood, in a manner similar to the North Side’s Burwood Tap. Beachwood takes up the entirety of a small, one-story building of brown brick that is adorned with a bright blue-painted façade with “Beachwood” in large yellow script, reminiscent of a team’s sporting logo.
It used to be until only recently that you had to be buzzed in, but now you can freely pass through the battered, gray-painted wooden door with its tiny diamond window. Once inside, you’ll find yourself in a classic Bohemian alehouse, similar in feel to nearby Gold Star Bar, Marie’s Riptide and Phyllis’ Musical Inn. With gray & white linoleum below and a green-painted wooden ceiling above, from which several kites hang including a long dragon, you’ll find the bar running halfway down the northern wall. Beachwood offers a decent selection of cheap bottled beer, stored in the old-fashioned, wooden walk-up cooler like that of Lottie’s Pub and Gingerman. Sadly, Carla no longer works there with her signature drink, the “Carlakaze”… They don’t serve food at Beachwood, but you might be able to bring in a pizza (check with the bartender beforehand).
Photo courtesy of Jasmine D.If you’re in for the long haul, you can stake a claim at one of the high-backed vinyl and chrome barstools or, better yet, snag one of the two booths next to the jukebox that is well stocked with 80s music. There’s also a couple of low-slung Formica-topped tables with banquet hall-style chairs, which are more conducive for playing one of the several board games (ala Guthries Tavern and Blue Frog) that are stored in a small bookcase in the rear, next to the restrooms and across from the small pool table and Rescue 911 pinball machine. Connect Four seems to be the most popular and there’s even a few paperbacks to boot for you silent writer types. Beachwood only has one TV and Golden Tee enthusiasts need not apply.
Elsewhere in the rear is a display of both Cubs and Sox memorabilia on the back wall, along with a giant Bears helmet that looms above an ancient wooden phonebooth in the northeast corner that has no phone in it. But wait, there’s more: the place rivals both Chipp Inn and Lincoln Tavern with its extensive Old Style advertising display and back-lit signs of all types as well as ancient posters that compliment an impressive array of old movie posters (Clockwork Orange, Bloodsucking Freaks) and other non-Old Style beer memorabilia of yesteryear (Spuds McKenzie). If that weren’t enough for ya, there’s also mélange of plants and giant porcelain pigs that crowd the plate-glass front windows, under a myriad of neon beer signs casting a warm glow at night. It’s like the Beachwood is a sibling to Inner Town Pub and a long-lost cousin of Uncle Fun.
“Opened in 1950, the Wicker Park haunt was originally run by Leonard Stepien, who was shot in the back by an armed robber while working behind the bar. His wife, Lorraine, took over the operation after being shown the ropes by fellow neighborhood gin slinger, Lottie Zagorski. Their sons Jim and Bob would eventually inherit the bar, and continue to run it to this day.”
– excerpt from Getting Beachy with Carla Kozlowski by Scott Smith (October 16, 2006)
Leonard was shot in the early 60s and allegedly now haunts the basement. In the vein of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Leonard’s son Bob was himself shot in 1973, but was only injured in the arm. According to Jonathan Stockton in his book, Chicago’s Best Dive Bars, “…the man shot the bartender [Bob] because he asked him to move his stool down the bar in order to make room for a group.” Don’t worry, this was the pre-condo era when Wicker Park was rough as guts. So there you have it: historical intrigue and plenty other reasons to draw you in today. Talk about “beachwood aging…” For more information, you’ll have to call the Beachwood Inn as they don’t have a website.