How many times have I been to Bernie’s? So difficult to remember… Why? Perhaps it’s because the beer garden at Bernie’s is where you’re most likely to find me after a Cubs game. Perhaps it’s because of the six post-game beers that find their way down the hatch to keep the initial half-dozen company. Perhaps it’s because Bernie’s has the best beer garden crowd after the game, even with stiff competition from Murphy’s Bleachers and Sports Corner. Whatever the case, Bernie’s and drinking after a Cubs game go together like fever and cough (sometimes literally in Spring).
Not to be confused with my old, now-defunct favorite, Bamboo Bernie’s, Bernie’s Tap & Grill is located at the corner of Clark and Waveland, across from the source of both my joy and sorrow, most of which is the latter—Wrigley Field. Bernie’s is housed within its own friendly confines of two-story beige brick, and sports a couple of new wooden signs, thanks to their new neighbor who raised the bar, Casey Moran’s. In fact the whole facade and interior have been recently remodeled as part of Bernie’s transition from “Bernie’s Tavern” to “Bernie’s Tap & Grill.” As such, the whole place has a cleaner, neater look. Step through the plate glass door, and past the ever present bouncers asking for IDs and you’ll now find French doors up front that open out in Summer, with those precariously perched at one of the few cocktails up front being partially restrained by a short, wrought-iron fence. A wooden bar runs the length of the south wall. As you would guess, the decor is comprised of Cubs memorabilia and beers signs upon exposed brick. The restrooms can be found at the end of this room and to the left of a portal to the back room, which offers a smattering of cocktail tables and is generally less crowded and somewhat less chaotic than the front room.
Another set of French doors opens out onto the rear beer garden, which you can also gain access to via the sidewalk entrance along Waveland. The latter is quicker as you won’t have to navigate through the packed bar, though you will still be carded by a pair of bouncers. The beer garden is where the action takes place at Bernie’s and is somewhat contained by a tall wooden fence. Here you’ll find a central island bar where the staff hovers a few feet above patrons jockeying to get their orders in. An additional bar is located against the southern fence, and a few Porta-Potties are available for those about to let loose. It was between the two outdoor bars that I once saw a redheaded girl clear the space in order to do a drunken cartwheel-flip. Just as she was starting her floor routine, an older, entirely clueless gentleman walked into the area and promptly took two feet to the face – it was like a bad kung-fu film. The redhead wound up on her rump and, though both were shaken by the experience as were those of us who witnessed it, everyone recovered afterwards. Something like this is unlikely to take place again, but is the sort of random madness that one can expect after Cub games in the beer garden at Bernie’s. That’s a big reason I like it.
You’ll also find a sidewalk cafe at Bernie’s along Waveland, separated from the pedestrian foot traffic by a short wooden fence and which is quite popular before Cub games, so good luck ever finding one of the plastic white tables unoccupied… As for food and drink, Bernie’s offers a standard menu of cheap pub grub (hot dogs, brats, burgers, chicken sandwiches) and a predictable beer selection dominated by domestics, all served by the occasionally seen waitress.
“How prophetic? The Cubs swept the Sox at Wrigley from June 21-23, 2008
Bernie’s is a personal favorite of mine after a Cubs game, with Murphy’s Bleachers being a close second. Bernie’s gets the nod from the Chicago Bar Project because it does not attract the crazed, sun-and-beer-poisoned bleacher creatures, but rather those preferring to get quietly plowed in their seats. In contrast to being a den of obnoxiousness during Cubs season (just like everywhere else around Wrigley Field, except of course Nisei…), Bernie’s is actually a fairly unspectacular bar during the off-season with patronage coming from a predominantly regular crowd and attractive drink specials like $7 pitchers and $3 imports. At the end of the day, Bernie’s is a Wrigleyville staple after Cub games and not a bad option for a quiet one any other time. For more information, check out Bernie’s website. In the meantime, viva los cachorritos!
Photo courtesy of Carla G. Surratt of Picturing Chicago