Big Joe's SignLocated in Ravenswood Manor, Big Joe’s 2 and 6 Pub is almost as obscure as the neighborhood that surrounds it. From the humble brick exterior with its bare wooden door, one would expect to find surly old regulars rather than a really fun neighborhood corner bar that features turtle racing, live music on Saturday night and even a good room for throwing darts. Bar-goers take note: head up to Big Joe’s and you can’t go wrong.

Step inside Big Joe’s and, aside from the carpeted floor, you’ll find a typical neighborhood bar layout: a wooden bar stocked with regulars runs along the west side of the room, across from a smattering of tables. Head up the stairs and on your left is a darts area and on your right is a pool table (across from the bathrooms). Formerly the Midwest Dart Co., Big Joe’s is endorsed by the Windy City Darters by offering two real cork dartboards and a few cocktail tables to sit at as you’re in the “throws” of a heated match. At first glance, there’s nothing special about the pool table. However, on Fridays it’s another story…

And They’re Off!

Several years ago, prior to new management and an animal rights controversy with national exposure, Deja Vu used to have turtle races every week. The torch has now been passed to Big Joe’s. Every Friday, Big Joe’s hosts turtle races and I wouldn’t be surprised if attendance at Arlington Racetrack has fallen off as a result. Alright, maybe it’s not that popular but easily could be someday. On turtle nights, a special racing arena constructed of a flat wooden board and rails to hold the turtles is placed onto the pool table. The turtles that race are from fine reptilian stock and come with names like Chicks, Lola, Doozy, Swisher, “Joe” Landa, and Lucky Dan. To prepare the audience for each race, a man that laughs at his own jokes every five seconds emcees with the help of a Shure SM57 instrument microphone and a $20 boom box that blares out prerecorded horn-blowing. The races begin every 15 minutes and those whose tickets are drawn are assigned one of six turtles. Hopefully you will not get the turtle described as “The slowest fucking turtle in the world!” (actually the turtle is not only described this way, but the emcee has everyone in the room yell this out at the start of every race). People earn tickets every time they purchase a pitcher of beer. The winner of each race gets a t-shirt and the last place boob gets a free beer. It’s not as easy as you might think to come in last place. Oftentimes, two turtles are last because they stop right before the finish line, causing rabid spectators to hoot and holler and generally attempt to coerce the other turtle to finish. Overall, it’s fun and only somewhat disturbing.

If turtle racing isn’t your bag, live music is featured most Saturday nights. Sadly, “Big Joe’s Jazz Masters” has moved on, having used to play on Sunday nights.

“Just a couple of updates on Big Joes 2 & 6. First, the jazz is no more. Its too bad because those guys were really good. Secondly, They have bands on Saturday nights now. Not every week but often. Theres never a cover charge so dont expect to see Rolling Stones caliber talent, but its still a good time. Lastly this is a great site. You should drink up north more. Id like to see what you think of Claddagh Ring (another bar owned by the Clancy Brothers), Farragut’s [gone], or Leadway. I’m gonna bookmark your site, and refer to it often.”

– “The guy livin’ upstairs at Big Joe’s” (June 27, 2004)
    • Big Joe's Patron
    • Big Joe's Neon Budweiser Turtles Sign
    • Big Joe's Turtle Races Announcer

On my last visit, I was with a few friends from the South Side and they were flummoxed by the similarity between Big Joe’s and bars they were used to back home. Perhaps then, we could assign Big Joe’s the dubious moniker of “Best South Side-like Bar on the North Side.” Regardless, Big Joe’s is a great place to down some beers, bet on turtles, play some cricket, and even listen to some jazz. Recommended escapade: start off at Hop Leaf in Andersonville to lay a foundation of fine brew, take in some darts and turtle races at Big Joe’s, and then wrap up the evening with cocktails at Simons back in Andersonville. Marvelous!

Big Joe's Chicago