“Star pizza and ribs since 1969”
Wait long enough and everything comes back in style. Sun dresses. Sidecars and Manhattans. Parachute pants—well thankfully not those. The Exchequer Pub is another example. A south Loop survivor now in its 40th year, the Exchequer Restaurant & Pub weathered the downtown blight of the 70s and 80s and has re-emerged as an old-school destination with a lively lunch and happy hour scene for students, conventioneers and Loop workers alike.
Located on Wabash, between Adams and Jackson, The Exchequer offers a welcome break from the slick chains that dominate the area. Though the interior has in recent years been remodeled from floor to ceiling, the look of the place still has a retro vibe that invokes the days of the first mayor Daley and past Bulls and White Sox championships. Owned by the Mannos brothers since 1982, the place exudes a homey, welcoming atmosphere that extends from the vintage picture tube televisions set up for catching the game to the staff warmly greeting regulars by name.
Patrons enter directly into the bar area, which is fronted by an old-fashioned cashier’s station that serves primarily as a roost for one of Exchequer’s ever-present owners. A half-dozen high-boy, four-tops line the rectangular space, with a smallish crescent bar along the south wall. A slew of framed gangster-era news clippings populate the walls, along with an impressive collection of Chicago related sports and movie memorabilia. A hostess stand sits just beyond the bar, which leads to two expansive dining rooms, replete with carpeting, padded booths and tables, all of which look strangely familiar, even if you’ve never been to Exchequer before.
Exchequer is known for their deep-dish pizza and baby back ribs, but the menu is surprisingly extensive and tasty if you’re looking for straight-forward All-American fare. A dozen entrée salads and burgers (of which the patty melt stands out), seafood, steaks and ribs are available at prices that are pretty competitive compared to other downtown options. 16 beers are offered on tap, with another 10 via bottle, including some surprises like Bell’s seasonal and Boddington’s Pub Ale. In keeping with the Chicago experience, Old Style at $3 a pint and $10 a pitcher can’t be beat, which attracts students from nearby DePaul, the Art Institute, Columbia, and Roosevelt. (Just try buying a latté downtown for three bucks…)
Meat Eaters and Aegean Pizza Photos Courtesy of Chicago Pizza Club
The site of the Exchequer has a long and storied history, having been a working restaurant and bar for almost 90 years. In the 1920s the joint was run as the “226 Club,” with a restaurant in front and a speakeasy in back. Gangster about town, Alphonse “Al” Capone, who at one point lived nearby, was a regular in those days. (Most of the news clippings chronicle this bygone era, so you can catch up on your gangland history as you drink and dine.) During the 30s and 40s it operated as the opulent “Wonder Bar” (not to be confused with the Gold Coast cabaret Underground Wonder Bar) and then became a casual diner named “Browns” before becoming the Exchequer in 1969, originally owned by Gus T. Mangel until he sold out to the Mannos Brothers in 1984.
Harkening back to a time when the Loop after dark was as desolate as a post-apocalyptic zombie movie, Exchequer maintains a pretty early bed time, closing at 11pm on weekdays and midnight Friday and Saturday. As such, Exchequer is busiest during lunch and as an after-work pit stop, catering to a multi-generational crowd that either lives, works, studies, or is staying in the area.
An old school retreat from the bustle of Michigan Avenue and State Street or a convenient pre-theater dining option, Exchequer Pub offers a genuine taste of Chicago for visitors and locals alike. If you’re intrigued by the nostalgic nature of the Exchequer, you may want to pay a visit to nearby Miller’s Pub or the reincarnated 17 West at the Berghoff. Chicago Bar Project Tip: The Exchequer website offers a printable 10% off coupon for parties up to 15 and guests of many surrounding hotels can get the same discount just by showing their hotel room key to their server. Consider it a rebate on the city’s stratospheric sales tax. Not bad for a place named after Great Britain’s IRS. Here’s mud in your eye. Cheers.