The Beat Kitchen has been entertaining those in the know with an excellent variety of live music, food and beer since 1994. Owner, Alan Baer, has offered up the Beat Kitchen as a sophomore follow-up to the now defunct Orphans, formerly located further south in Lincoln Park. Today, some herald the Beat Kitchen as one of the best live music venues in the city, rivaling the more popular Empty Bottle, nearby Elbo Room, and the notorious Double Door.
I must have driven past the Beat Kitchen hundreds of times on Belmont before I finally went there. It looks rather small from the outside, and is not close to any other notable bars or restaurants (with the exception of Cody’s Public House). I was finally drawn there to see Pat McCurdy (with Pipe Jim), who does a comedy/music show there every Monday. Digital City: Chicago describes Pat McCurdy as: “So funny you might forget he’s a great musician.” Formerly at Lounge Ax, Pat’s show attracts hordes of followers, many of whom can sing most of Pat’s songs on their own (and do). Pat also plays every Saturday at Hog Head McDunna’s and every year at Milwaukee’s Summerfest.
“Hey Patty, play a song for me. I paid five dollars’ cover charge – it’s highway robbery!”
Instead of referring to a beatnik atmosphere, as the now defunct Kerouac Jack’s once tried to do, the “Beat” in Beat Kitchen is meant to emphasize its nightly musical offerings. As far as the bands go, it’s a mix of whatever they can line up – similar to what you’ll find at the Elbo Room, Schuba’s and Wise Fools Pub. These bands represent an eclectic mix of pop, rock, folk, and even comedy from time to time. Bottom line: you never know what you’re going to get at the Beat Kitchen unless you’ve seen one of the bands before. Bands play in a good-sized room in the back, which is lined with an asylum-like, off-white glazed brick. One particularly notable feature about the room is that it is one of the few places in the entire city where you can watch a cool band and get waitress service. That’s what I’m talking about!
A word to musicians: I recently received an e-mail from someone, who I’ll refer to as “J.” J points out that the current terms for bands wishing to play at the Beat Kitchen seem severe, and the new booking agent is difficult to deal with. According to J, bands receive 40% compensation on tickets sold, less $50 for sound (no charge for sound for over 60 tickets sold). The Beat Kitchen holds up to 300 in the back room where bands play, and set lengths last 50 minutes each. Doors open at 9:00 p.m. and bands start at 9:30 p.m. Bands are allowed free water, soda and half-price Pabst Blue Ribbons (what a bargain – $1.00 each). Tickets usually cost $6, with $2 off for patrons bringing in a flier. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? Here’s the catch: bands have to agree not to perform two weeks before or after the engagement, within 40 miles! In addition, J says, “This guy is unbelievable [name of the Beat Kitchen booking agent withheld]. He is thick-headed, unfamiliar with the local music scene, pretentious, lacking in any people skills, and therefore bad for the Beat Kitchen.” It’s not too difficult to see his point.
As for the food at Beat Kitchen, a Metromix reviewer once commented: “Their gourmet pizza makes the California Pizza Kitchen look like Pizza Hut.” In addition to standard pub grub fare, the menu includes Thai pizza, nine salads including the “Beat Salad,” tortilla soup, and blackened chicken sandwiches, among many other entrees. Some of the daily specials get pretty creative and change regularly. I’ve eaten here a few times and have never been disappointed – I’d particularly recommend the tortilla soup for starters. The kitchen is open late but is no longer open for lunch during the week. Seating is available at the bar, in one of the comfortable leather booths along the east side of the room, and in the sidewalk café in summer.
“As the name suggests, Beat Kitchen slings out above average nosh (sandwiches, pizzas, salads, soup) until 11pm during the week and 12:30am on weekends, and the back room hosts regional rock/alternative bands nightly, like nearby Elbo Room and Schuba’s ($8-$12 cover). Comedian/Musician Pat McCurdy belts out such classics as Thankless Bastard and Big Porno Hair every Monday night for $6.”– Yours truly, as featured in Time Out Chicago
The front bar has plenty of comfortable booths and a long bar to sit at, most of which has been redone after a recent fire. Behind the bar, they have many different types of beers in an antique, very cool looking triple-paned, wood-paneled cooler. Like nearby Lincoln Tap Room, they have all their beers listed on a chalkboard above the cooler that includes the likes of Stella Artois, Dos Equis, Leinenkugel Red, Sam Adams, Boddinger’s Pub Ale, Bass, Guinness, Harp, etc. They even have the cheap stuff like Pabst, Point, and Lone Star. The bathrooms are downstairs (watch your head), and local artwork adorns the walls and menu covers.
“In 1933, a streetcar struck and killed a track inspector for the Chicago Surface Lines (the streetcar network that predated buses) in front of the building. In the ’40s, it became the Elm Tree Tavern, which was frequently robbed—most notably by Richard Carpenter, a notorious tavern bandit who worked the North and Northwest Sides. In the mid-’50s, he robbed at least 70 establishments. It eventually took 30 police squads to catch Carpenter, in the largest manhunt in city history (at the time). Eventually, the bar became Sam’s Saloon, named after owner Sam Navarro, a former prizefighter and jazz musician. Sam’s Saloon became a jazz venue, Woody’s Tavern, in the ’80s.”– excerpt from Kyle Ryan’s article, “Remembering the ‘Bucket ‘o Blood” on Decider Chicago, September 10, 2008
The Beat Kitchen is perfect when you’re in the mood to explore some new live music, a new bar and an interesting pizza, much in the tradition of Woody’s – a live music, darts and beer bar that preceded it (not to be confused with Smokin’ Woody’s BBQ on Lincoln Avenue). For more information and an upcoming music scehdule, check out the Beat Kitchen website. Rock out, whatever.