Tap rooms are the original hybrids: these half-bar, half-liquor stores are a dying breed in Chicago, lost in a wave of gastropubs, upscale dives and liquor spas. It’s easy to get nostalgic and romanticize their waning existence, but in Bruno & Tim’s Lounge (and liquor store) you can find reasons to both mourn their loss and celebrate their passing. If you’re visiting the Loyola area or live within three blocks, Bruno & Tim’s can be a solid choice for a cheap round of drinks and/or a bottle and six pack to go. Otherwise, chances are you’ve got a better option closer to home.
At least you know exactly what to expect at Bruno & Tim’s Lounge. This is not some up-market lounge posing under cover of a down-market name, i.e. Motel Bar. You’ll find B&T’s double-storefront entrance on the west side of Sheridan, just a few panhandlers north of the Loyola Red Line stop. Step through the glass door and enter a space that is 50% liquor store, 50% lounge. Probably to deter shoplifters, the packaged goods side is as brightly lit as a Walmart at Christmas. Probably to hide the regulars, the lounge side is darker than the mockumentary Man Bites Dog. If you’re there for carry out, B&T’s has a fairly decent selection of beer, wine and spirits to choose from. If you’re there for a round, head to your right and try to figure out what the over-powering smell is. It’s not incense. It’s not air freshener. Oh, it’s pine disinfectant.
Tables are set up in the front windows and run along the north wall of the smallish, rectangular lounge space. The curved bar backs up to the half-wall that separates the two sides of the business. So, the majority of patrons have to stare at the bright lights of the liquor store from the gloom of the bar, creating an effect like you’ve just walked out of a matinee. A few TV sets above the bar provide most of the bar’s lighting, offering a murky view of the classic tin ceiling above and the smattering of decades-old promotional beer objects that have become antique collector’s items over time. The jukebox, unplugged when I was there, is entirely filled with Greatest Hits collections ranging from the Pixies to the Rolling Stones. For unexplained reasons, B&T’s does have free wifi, so ask your bartender for the code. Bathrooms are located in the rear of the premises but, if you have a choice, hold it. I know the place smells of pine cleaner, but after a visit, I didn’t want to just wash my hands, I wanted to take a shower.
There are no beers on tap, but if they sell the brand at the liquor store, you can probably snag a bottle or two for your drinking pleasure. Beer prices are reasonable, but not scandalously cheap. An Old Style will run you $2.50, but unless you’re a bar within four blocks of Wrigley Field, charging any more than that should be a felony. For hard liquor, things get a bit more interesting. The bill for two Kettle Ones and one Johnny Walker Black on the rocks? $13.50. For the round! I didn’t see any specials per se, but the everyday low prices are definitely the star feature of Bruno & Tim’s.
Though the bartender was fonder of the word “fuck” than Denis Leary, the service was better than I expected for a first-timer. When my manly friend asked for a twist in his vodka, the bartender went about cutting into a fresh lemon with only a mild wrinkle of his eyebrows and actually thanked me for leaving a tip. As for the clientele, the crowd is either under 25 or over 50, with very little in between. The Loyola coeds generally stick close to the door, while more mature regulars—mostly grads of yore, local residents and the occasional professor—take up their regular stations at the bar. You might get a sideways look or three coming in for the first time, but five minutes later most of them will forget you’re even there.
If the question is: where can I drink on the cheap near Loyola? Bruno & Tim’s Lounge is your answer. If you like Bruno & Tim’s, you’re definitely not the high-maintenance type, so you may enjoy a round at Ravenswood Pub, Dino’s Liquors or Sovereign. For more info, you’ll have to give Bruno & Tim’s a call as they don’t have a website or even a Facebook page… Go Ramblers!