While blue frogs do exist in nature (witness the Blue Poison Dart species), they aren’t exactly common. Likewise, the Blue Frog Bar & Grill in trendy River North is an extremely rare and endangered species: a down and dirty, festive, family-run dive in an area of the city where martinis with an attitude have long been in vogue.
Blue Frog has been in business for almost 20 years, but finding it is half the battle. I spent six month living in the neighborhood before I noticed the place and another year until my curiosity led me to the not-so-easy-to-find door. The bar is set back behind a parking lot (not theirs) at the corner of Huron and LaSalle. A rusting placard and spaghetti-thin, occasionally lit neon sign mark its existence, and there’s a tiny outdoor patio for imbibery alfresco. It doesn’t exactly flaunt itself to the many tourists wandering the area, but perhaps that’s the point.
I remember my wife and I blinking like a flash-grenade had detonated, upon our first visit to Blue Frog. With much affection, the interior of Blue Frog looks like a garage sale threw up, with most of the regurgitated contents stuck to the ceiling. Patrons enter a smallish rectangular room, with a beaten bar running along the short end of the wall to the left, and a dozen tables of varying heights left and center. A pink door marks the lady’s room, like the blue door in the back corner for the men’s room, where a shower curtain serves as a toilet stall door. What looks like reclaimed wooden planks line the floor. Butcher paper for the tables sits in plain view, on stacked cases of Chardonnay. And everywhere, knickknacks. There’s Howdy Doody hanging from a Radio Flyer wagon, inflatable blimps floating overhead and enough background clutter to kill a half hour, easy.
Blue Frog’s overall appearance doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in their kitchen, but I recently took a chance and popped in for a weekday lunch. To my surprise, the tables were mostly full with nearby office workers and, to my further surprise, virtually none of them were drinking. Incredibly, they must have been there strictly for the food. My burger turned out fresh and juicy and the $1 upgrade to tots was a nice play on my part, if I don’t say so myself… Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily, with specials on most weeknights, including free hot dogs on Mondays (when redhots happen to be the only item served). Homemade soups and daily blueplate specials, ranging from meatloaf to shrimp tomatillo, round out a menu of burgers, salads and wraps.
Weekday drink specials, which include offerings like $2.50 Bud, are probably the way to go. Otherwise, Blue Frog has about two dozen beers, mostly in bottles, with all the usual suspects you’d expect in any beer lineup. Of course there’s a full bar, but after the office workers vacate, a mostly beer-drinking crowd of locals and songbirds descend on the room. Karaoke is still king at Blue Frog. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays at 10pm, tables are pushed aside and throats are cleared. There is supposedly a two drink minimum, but enforcement seems largely unnecessary. Song selection and execution ranges as widely as the singers’ ages and backgrounds, but the atmosphere is usually fun, especially on weekends when groups of friends egg each other toward the mic. Prior to showtime, patrons can choose from a variety of board games, most of which conjure memories of early childhood. There’s Operation, Candy Land, Connect Four, and, of course, “You sank my battleship!”
Blue Frog is a no-attitude, genial dive that is great not only for its food and fun, but also its unlikely location. If you like the vibe here, I’d suggest you branch out and try the much tidier Guthries in Lakeview, grungier Mutiny in Logan Square or tinier Matchbox in River West. For more information, you’ll have to call as the Blue Frog Bar & Grill doesn’t have a website. Let’s hope this frog keeps on hopping.