“Pool, darts, sandwiches”
When my mother, who grew up in Humboldt Park, used to complain about all the “hillbillies hangin’ out the windows” in Lakeview and Uptown, I thought she was crazy. It turns out that she was right: there was indeed a wave of Appalachian “immigration” that descended upon Chicago in a plague of bib overalls that began after World War II and lasted until the urban regentrification of the 1980s. Carol’s Pub opened around the height of Chicago’s hick-town and is the lone survivor, especially now that Kinetic Playground replaced Sharon’s Hillbilly Heaven on Lawrence. As such, Carol’s keeps the dream alive in the form of a scruffy yet classic, honky tonk dive featuring both kinds of music—country and western—until the wee hours of the morning, every weekend. And they’ve got pool, darts and sandwiches to boot.
Carol’s Pub can be found in the Sheridan Park enclave of Uptown, at the southeast corner of Clark Street and Leland Avenue. Housing Carol’s is a single-story, beige brick building with hand-painted signs urging patrons to leave quietly and advertising karaoke every Thursday night at 9:00pm. A battered gray door leads to the bouncer, perched at the end of a very long and very worn wooden bar, who uses his nightstick-like flashlight to check your ID (there’s no cover). Above him hangs a porcelain varmint on a swing – you know, the usual. Grizzled regulars scope out the incoming talent the north side of the bar and occasionally venture out onto the dance floor to spin the girls, which is its own entertainment. The red-painted northern wall is choked with neon beer signs, video poker machines and leads towards a pool table surrounded by metal kegs in the northeast corner of the bar. This is most definitely not where the grungy bathrooms can be found as they’re on the other side of the bar, contrary to what my pitcher of beer insight suggested. A pinball machine lies next to the cigarette machine that butts up against the Golden Tee. Good times for all.
A larger expanse of exposed brick lies across from the bar and features a series of long, low-slung tables served by aggressive waitresses on weekends. Thin poles hold up the black ceiling and look as though they could give way if someone were to back up their banquet hall chair into one, and a tiny window looks out onto Clark though is choked with a neon MGD sign and “Live Entertainment” painted on it. An elevated stage with a wooden railing with sticky tape for $1 requests is located in the southeast corner of the bar and is where you can find the increasingly graying band, Diamondback, though the lead singer still looks good in a miniskirt and they play strong all the way from 9:00pm to 4:00am every Friday and to 5:00am every Saturday. Diamondback specializes in old-school country covers from those like Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash, and they’ve been doing it for over a decade. There’s plenty of room to dance just to the right of the stage and the place goes bananas when Rocky Top by Bob Denver is inevitably played and you’re sure to get your fill of line dancing, to boot (though thankfully without Achy Breaky Heart). Thursday nights feature karaoke and strays more and more away from the country theme as the years go by. All other nights feature country music on the jukebox.
Thursday Night Karaoke at Carol’s Pub
Carol’s Pub opened in 1973 by Ted Harris. When he passed on in 1993, his wife Carol took over, renamed the place and has kept it going strong ever since. While the ornery southern crowd and prostitutes have moved on, a quiet, local crowd drinks cheap domestic beer and plays pinball, darts and pool during the week until the younger Wrigleyville horde and Loyola students pack the place after other bars close, many wearing cowboy boots and hats. “Drink or get the hell out,” is the philosophy that remains firmly in place and which is gleefully embraced by all who enter.
“What has two hundred arms, two hundred legs and seven teeth? That would be the Friday night crowd at Carol’s.”-Shecky’s Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002
Pitcher prices escalate about $5 past midnight, so order your pitchers prior to the witching hour, and remember to leave quietly. It’s not too difficult to find a cab afterwards, which is unusual considering its location way up north, and there’s a burrito joint next door to soak up all that cheap beer unless you grab a $3 burger or sandwich at the bar. Not bad for Chicago’s last honky tonk. For more information, you’ll have to call as Carol’s Pub doesn’t have a website. Hoo-wee!