The Black Rock is the best bar in West Lakeview that you’ve never heard of. Not to be confused with Black Duck (Lincoln Park) or Black Beetle (Humboldt Park), the Black Rock isn’t even listed in the phone book. “The Rock” has had a turbulent past as a somewhat less-than-notable joint called, “Reminiscent” (which you can still see written under the awning), but has re-established itself in fine form since it was opened in 2000. While the Black Rock has become a neighborhood staple, the bar actually exists for one main purpose: to support the Chicago Griffins Rugby Team
Located on Damen, just north of Addison between from the Riverview Tavern and Xippo Lounge, the Black Rock will lure you in with its attractive neon sign (with diamond) and large plate glass windows that look out onto Damen. As you walk in, you will see the Rock’s long, battered wooden bar with green beveled glass behind it stretches along the South wall. The bar arcs intriguingly out at the end, perhaps to make access to the retro 50s cooler more accessible, or to draw attention to the giant stuffed moose head that would make the owner of Will’s, Grizzly’s and John Barleycorn’s jealous. The front room is decorated with a beautiful gold-painted tin ceiling, old-fashioned lights, wood paneling, hardwood floors, and lighted signs advertising Bass, Harp, Tetley’s, and Caffrey’s. All beers available on tap and in bottles are illustrated on a large chalkboard to the left of the bar. Take note of the monthly special, typically for only $3.50. I had a Sapporo draft on my last visit and thought of the Nisei Lounge. The jukebox offers a wide variety of music and several plasma screens around the room allow you to stay in touch with your inner-SportsCenter. Like the Map Room, Black Rock features Chicago Fire games hosted by the Barn Burners 1871, and also televises rugby matches to satisfy your inner-barbarian.
The back room hosts a fireplace constructed of wood and marble, wooden paneling, a pool table, a large radiator, and two sets of tables and chairs. It was on one of these tables that the following note was written:
“Sean–Quite frankly, I think Barbie is cool. What was your middle name? That’s okay, even if your name doesn’t mean shit, we still dig you.”– M
Photo courtesy of Steve SleeveIf you can figure that one out, let me know. The back room is often divided by a folding wooden partition so that it can be used for private parties, but fills up with locals on weekends who descend upon the couches to play board games featured by the Black Rock, like Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly and Clue. As for that nosh you’re looking for, Black Rock seeks to offer a step up from average bar food: you’ll find calamari, spinach & artichoke dip, bruschetta, flatbread pizza, fries served with bleu cheese, along with such pub staples as mini-cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, tater tots, and fried mac & cheese served in triangular bites that are a hit with those in the know.
“This pub was like sinking your teeth into a gravy sandwich on a warm June morning, as the gravy runs down your chin, you ask yourself, who would win in a quarrel a Siberian tiger or nature’s candy, a woolly mammoth.”– Ted Beefstone on Centerstage Chicago (October 24, 2006)
Clientele at the Black Rock consists primarily of low-key neighborhood types and Chicago Griffin rugby players, all of whom are quite mad. The Black Rock was actually opened by four “old boys” (now former members of the Chicago Griffins Rugby Team. According to an article by Scot Edens in the Chicago Reader, “The old boys bought the Black Rock for $425,000 in 2000, and every dollar it generates in profit—about $30,000 a year, says Terry Connors—goes to help cover the $80,000 to $90,000 the Griffins rack up annually in travel and other expenses. Yet there’s almost nothing in the front room of the bar—no team photographs, no jerseys behind glass—to suggest that the Black Rock’s raison d’etre is a rugby team.” You didn’t know Chicago had a rugby team? Now you know. My only issue with the crowd is that, on a recent visit, several men were seen drinking half-pints of Guinness. Disturbing. An example of Black Rock conversation: “If you eat onion, you’re gonna stink.” Words of wisdom at the Rock.
“Yes, the Black Rock is a nice, low lit bar. It’s reminiscent of the early 1900s in many ways. It’s narrow, deep and gives you a sense of cozy, especially when the two fireplaces are burning and the couches are available for you to sink in. I love the music and the old Pacman video game in the back. Unfortunately, they hire anyone they can grab, often rugby players, to be their bartenders and, like a lot of those guys, they don’t really give a shit about anyone not in their clan. If the drink stinks, just drink it. There has been an occasional good bartender but you take your chances when you walk in. It’s too bad. It could be a really great bar and eatery but it lacks good business sense.”– A.B. (November 5, 2006)
Prior to its quirky life as Black Rock, the place was called “Richard Sauhammel’s” (I’ll give you one guess as to where the name comes from…). “Richard Sauhammel’s qualifies as the most representative of Chicago’s German taverns with its classic red-checkered tablecloths, handsome wood decor, fancy beer stein collection, display of bowling trophies and lively rounds of conversation,” according to Jay Walljasper in his Chicago Tribune article, “German Bars Offer Cold Beer, Warm Welcome” (December 24, 1982).
The Black Rock has become very popular with the neighborhood, particularly with their sponsorship of softball teams and the Chicago Griffins. Like nearby Ginger’s Ale House, Ten Cat and Guthrie’s Tavern, Black Rock is the type of place where you go for one and stay for the rest of the night, and the place is ideal for that party you’ve been thinking about hosting. For more information, check out the Black Rock website. Rock on, whatever.