Belly’s – it’s where we all end up when seeking satisfaction from a bit of nosh, libations and, dare I say, the opposite sex. You’ll be glad to know, that Belly’s delivers on all of the above. Since its opening in November 2003, Belly’s has become a West Lakeview / Roscoe Village hotspot with a line out the door during primetime that would make the owner of John Barlyecorn’s jealous. It seems the “upscale sports bar” theme pioneered by Belly’s has proven successful in Chicago, bringing with it a legion of North Side followers like Casey Moran’s, Grand Central, and Red Ivy (also on Clark).
The pride of the intersection of Lincoln, Belmont and Ashland can be found just north of Belmont on Lincoln, and next to the all-you-can-eat sushi buffet that once had my wife in the bathroom for a few hours afterwards. Belly’s is also around the corner from Bungalow Loungebar, and Fizz and Bourbon lie a few doors up the street. Pub crawl, anyone? Today, upon the wood-paneled facade hangs a tasteful wooden sign with “Belly’s” written in gold lettering with a “y” that swoops down like those at the bar on the unsuspecting, replacing what Ellen Fox of Metromix describes as, “…the curious, swerving metallic facade that once marked the entrance to the space’s former tenant, Technicolor Kitchen.” The present incarnation at this location is named after the owners’ idea that everything good, “ends up in your belly.”
Step up to Belly’s and prepare to be carded, following a wait in line if you get there after 10pm on weekends. Once inside, you’ll find a large room with plenty of space even when it gets crowded. If you’re lucky, you can grab one of the much sought-after wooden cocktail tables windows up front that look out over Lincoln through windows that open completely out in summer, with a black railing to hold in patrons (for their own protection…). Along the north wall of exposed brick, you’ll find a wall-mounted jukebox and ATM, next to a 30-foot polished mahogany bar that runs almost the entire length of the room. Across from this is a wide aisle broken up by a few more cocktail tables, opposite low-slung tables and a long banquette that runs along the south wall with modern-looking, cone-shaped lights hanging above from the high ceiling.
Partial brick walls that look like they caught the disdain of a wrecking ball during the renovation from their days in the Technicolor Kitchen, separate the front room from the rear. Back here, you’ll find a smaller yet spacious area with another smaller banquette along the north wall, and more cocktail tables that are swept out on weekends to accommodate a heaving throng moving to the DJ-spun lounge music. A series of intriguing posters, tastefully framed and apparently commissioned exclusively for Belly’s, hang from the walls. One such poster depicts a very large man hoisting a large glass mug with “Belly’s Bar” scripted underneath and another depicts an overgrown cherub hoisting a bottle of wine while sitting naked on a giant bunch of grapes above the words “The Biggest Belly” – both of which are reminiscent of those peculiar French liquor posters you sometimes see around. In the back, you’ll also find an additional though miniature bar between the kitchen to the right and the small hallway to the left that leads to the bathrooms designated by copper-painted wooden “M” and “W.” The men’s features black marble-tiled bathrooms, with two urinals located too close for comfort. The stall is more spacious but doesn’t have a door, so fellas: if Mother Nature calls on line two, prepare for an audience or you’d better make a dash home.
For those with an appetite, Belly’s offers a pretty good menu of pub grub with the usual selection of appetizers, burgers ($1 on Mondays), sandwiches, wings ($0.25 each on Wednesdays), even tacos ($1 on Tuesdays), and a few notable entrees like the chicken fried chicken and the “Kentucky Hot Brown,” which is basically two English muffins with turkey and bacon, and topped with tomato and a cheddar cheese-based sauce that sells for a surprisingly high $12 – more even the salmon ($10). Personally, I like the turkey burger with Swiss and a side of tater tots. One of the claims to fame at Belly’s used to be that they’d add a fried egg to any sandwich for $1 more. Sadly, this was discontinued in 2004. Belly’s was the site of my recovery the day after my 30th birthday (and a sea of Goldschlager shot over at the now-defunct JT Collins), where a “Belly Burger” topped off with a fried egg was just what the doctor ordered. Nowadays, fellow inebriates may want to wander over to the Four Moon Tavern on Wolcott for an excellent Bloody Mary.
As for the beer, Belly’s has a decent selection highlighted by serve Hamm’s, Stroh’s and Schlitz in the can—”Cans”, eat your heart out—which are $1 on Tuesdays and all domestics are $2 on Thursdays. A friend and I once ordered a Bud and a High Life and got a Bud Light and an MGD. Curious. Belly’s is also one of a legion of bars that now serves Fat Tire Amber on tap, formerly available only west of the Mississippi like a modern day Coors. I’ve decided that I don’t care for it – it’s too sweet and way to popular/fad-ish. A friend tells me that the lager is much better but that flavor of Fat Tire must have had a blow-out because it hasn’t migrated eastwards yet.
The tables feature waitress service that can be hit or miss, but is sure to please male patrons as the place is notorious for hot waitresses to match the oft-sequined female clientele. I once spoke to a waitress at Fizz down the block who was chagrined to see all the male bartenders there going out with all the Belly’s chicks. As for the lads:
“The crowd is quite a mix, but it certainly leans toward the young and sports-obsessed. In fact, it’s young professional with a little of the frat boy left inside-someone who wants to drink brews with the boys and then dress up for the ladies later.”
– Patrick Sisson, Centerstage Chicago
Overall, the crowd itself is the main draw at Belly’s and is predominantly in their lower 20s, except for when my old ass wanders in. If you’re wondering what’s in fashion at the moment, just head over to Belly’s and then tarry not to the GAP just down Lincoln. You’ll never see a shirt tucked in at Belly’s.
The decor at Belly’s is best described as polished but minimal, kind of like a refined and spacious McGee’s, though several flatpanel TVs scattered throughout the bar serve as the main entertainment beyond the clientele. Belly’s also features live music without a cover on Thursdays, usually a one-man-band. I was there one Thursday when there was a guy that took 25 minutes to sing “All Apologies” by Nirvana after having to start over a few times.
In my opinion, Belly’s is an appealing successor to the mock-sophistication and hideous facade of the Technicolor Kitchen. The food is good and with the beer specials, Belly’s is a great place to go during the week – it’s not jam packed but there’s always a good crowd. And, if you’re looking to make a new special friend, Belly’s is a must on weekends. For more information, check out the Belly’s Bar & Grill website. What’s in your belly?