Editor’s Note: Doc’s River North closed in early 2003 and is now The Kerryman
“Serving up the very best of River North and a little history to boot…”
Doc’s River North is a bar in transition. Prior to Doc’s, the space served as the trendy Tonic 661, which served Southern cuisine. Before that, it was the Wonton Club, Joey’s Italian Kitchen, a punk rock legend called O’Banion’s, PQ’s, the largest strip club in Chicago in the 1950s called McGovern’s Liberty Inn, and simply McGovern’s Saloon, hangout for Bugs Moran during the Gangster Era, before that. Doc’s is the latest of many incarnations at this site. This time around, Doc’s is billing itself as the only neighborhood corner bar in River North serving burgers and Cosmopolitans at half-price. Locals will appreciate this as the neighborhood is filled with dives, tourists traps, and cocktail lounges that appeal to older crowds.
When you walk in the bar, you’ll notice a poster-sized map of the River North neighborhood and attractions. Up the stairs, you will find a spacious room with high ceilings. The walls are adorned with photographs of the area, both new and old. Curiously, some of these photographs are of competing drinking establishments like the Redhead Piano Bar and Mother Hubbard’s. The front room is filled with holdovers from Tonic 661’s trendy decor days: modern high-backed chairs and tables, with interesting triangular lights hanging above, an “L” shaped metal bar, and an incongruous low-set banquette running along the wall. The far wall sports a big screen that plays sports during the week, and the Sopranos on Sunday (complete with specials on Sambucca and Anisette). There are over 10 beers on tap, cigars behind the bar (available after 10:00 p.m.), and an ever satisfying Budweiser beer sign with circling Clydesdale horses pulling a Budweiser beer wagon.
Beyond the front room is a dining area complete with wooden tables and checked tablecloths. The food is standard fare pub grub, but a few people were seen ordering carry-out on a Tuesday night – a true sign of good food. Up and around the corner is the pool table and requisite Golden Tee machine. It is more of a perch than a room, as you can spy on patrons at the bar below. The lights up there are reminiscent of those you might find in a submarine. The jukebox contains a disturbing mix of Eminem, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and U2. In addition, while playing a best of the 90’s CD, the bartender was observed turning off Cake’s The Distance in mid-song because he felt it was “too weird.” In the summertime, there is seating outside in the sidewalk café where one can watch the tourists and listen to the music piped out of Doc’s itself.
A friend of mine that works there tells me that Doc’s will undergo remodeling to make it even more attractive for locals, versus the more sterile, shi shi decorations of tenants past. Until that time, Doc’s still represents an appealing, down to earth, local haunt for those hesitant to watch a Blackhawks game at Pasha. I rather enjoyed it given the strange circumstances of my attendance: waiting for a friend to show a French pastry chef the fully loaded kitchen for rent (located under the bar) on a Tuesday night before we headed off to a Blackhawks game. A few pints of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and watching another hockey game on the big screen made the wait rather enjoyable.
Photograph taken by Carla G. Surratt of Picturing Chicago