While some may erroneously think that the Four Farthings Tavern & Grill is a sports bar or an Irish pub, it is not. Rather, the tavern differentiates itself from other nearby saloons like Gamekeepers, Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap, Glascott’s Groggery, and Sedgwick’s by offering an English pub-style atmosphere complete with wooden paneling, old photographs and a restaurant featuring an impressive array of steaks and seafood. On the other hand, the Four Farthings is as much a meat market in the evenings as anywhere else in Lincoln Park even though it caters to a slightly older crowd.
The Four Farthings, not to be confused with the Four Moon Tavern or the Four Treys, takes its name from the four provinces that make up the Shire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classics, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. These Shire provinces were named after the four points of the compass: Northfarthing, Southfarthing, Eastfarthing, and Westfarthing. In Hobbitspeak, when you’re at the “Four Farthings” you are in the center of the world where all Farthings meet. While they haven’t yet, perhaps the owners of the Four Farthings should rename the four parts of their bar after towns in these provinces. Perhaps: Hobbiton (main bar), Bywater (restaurant), Tookborough (back room), and Buckland (sidewalk café – yes, even though Buckland is technically located just outside the Shire). For those of you unimpressed by Tolkien’s tales, you may instead be interested to know that a farthing was actually one-quarter of a penny in Olde England. Therefore, the Four Farthings could also be known as The Penny for short.
Back here in Chicago, the Four Farthings is located at the base of a quaint, three-story, redbrick building with forest green-painted wooden trim at the six-corner intersection of Lincoln, Cleveland and Dickens. Though not recommended, if you’re coming via car valet parking is available from Wednesday through Saturday. A modest wooden sign hangs on the corner, advertising the tavern and two of the regulars you might find inside. Step under the red, green and blue awnings and make your way into the bar through the old wooden door. Inside, you’ll find a classic barroom with cherubs painted gold and holding up flowers on either side of a mirror just inside the front door, worn wooden floors, a green-painted tin ceiling, old-fashioned chandeliers with bulb lights, ceiling fans, wooden paneling, framed pictures of ships hanging on beige-painted walls, and plants that line the back of the bar (including poinsettias around Christmas). A few obligatory televisions and beer signs can also be found but are far from the focus of patrons’ attention. If possible, grab a seat at one of the square, green padded wooden barstools or at the lone cocktail table mounted upon the wall. If Providence smiles upon you, grab one of the tables located in either nook on both sides of the front door. Here, you will not incur the wrath of pushy waitresses as you’ll be buffered from the throng. The backroom, separated from the main bar area by glass and wood, lies beyond the bathrooms encased in a wooden vault, an old-fashioned wooden phone booth and a tasteful yet neon Budweiser sign. Here in the back you’ll find a Golden Tee machine, smallish pool table, an ATM, and additional cocktail tables. This area, however, is often rented out for private parties leaving the main barroom even more packed.
It was in the main bar area where I once spent an evening with a Canadian guy that was fond of “licking hoop” (if you don’t know what this is, just think about it for a little while…) and his English friend whom we called Nigel even though that was not his real name. The evening stands out in my mind because the Canadian donned an English accent and was able to woo a drunk blonde at the bar with it to such a degree that she let him stick his hand up her shirt (and possibly elsewhere). Meanwhile, the authentically English Nigel was up to his own antics involving “Average Bird.” The so-designated girl in her thirties was told “average” when asked how Nigel would describe her looks. Even though she stormed off, Nigel was able to get to her friends and, somehow, was able to turn his insult into a date and a shag a few days later. Such things are par for the course at the Four Farthings where the place gets rowdy with girls in their thirties looking for action and guys of all ages looking to score and box out their rivals, in a manner similar to the now-defunct Tavern 33 only more raucous.
While not known for having an extensive beer selection necessarily, as most bars in Chicago feature at least two dozen beers, it is interesting to note that the Four Farthings was one of the first Chicago bars to expand their beer selection. The old lineup consisted of Old Style, Budweiser and Guinness on tap with Miller Lite, Heineken, Special Export, and Beck’s in bottles. In the mid-80’s, the Four Farthings experimented with offering Eau Claire All-Malt, Christian Moerlin, and imports like Tsingtao (China), OB (Japan), Coopers (Australia), Samuel Smith’s (England), Orange Boom (Holland), and Raichbier (Germany). Today, the bar offers a decent selection of 32 beers, both on tap and in bottles.
The dining room is accessible through a doorway in the south end of the main bar, and is filled with square wooden tables with white tablecloths and green-padded wooden chairs. Preferred seating can be found in front of the long, paned-glass windows looking out onto Cleveland Avenue or at one of the green-leather upholstered booths located along the north end of the room. A chalkboard hangs from the ceiling near the windows, amongst old-fashioned lights. Wait staff, decked out in white dress shirts and ties, deliver orders from the kitchen portal located in the northwest corner of the room. Up to 85 patrons can comfortably enjoy a meal here, although mirrors on both sides make the dining room look even larger. For lunch and dinner, the Four Farthings menu offers filet mignon, New York Strip Steak, ribeye, skirt steak, lamb chops, babyback ribs, pork chops, chicken vesuvio, chicken tampico, duck, salmon, crab cakes, mahi mahi, steamed clams, mussels, scallops, trout, amberjack, ahi tuna, tilapia, and softshell crab. Specials include lobster tail, stone crab claws and Alaskan king crab legs and the wine list features up to 80 wines by the bottle and 12 by the glass. Anyone for brunch? If so, you can choose amongst blueberry pancakes, French toast, huevos rancheros, steak & eggs, and a variety of benedicts (eggs, andouille sausage, salmon, portobello & spinach, sausage, and crab) and omelettes from 10:00am to 3:00pm Wash it all down with 16-ounce Bloody Marys. A selection of soups, salads and sandwiches are also available. In the 2005/6 edition of Zagat’s Chicago restaurant survey, Four Farthings Tavern & Grill was rated as having good food, decor and service, with an average meal costing you about $23. Zagat’s went on to note that Four Farthings offers, “…a ‘surprisingly good’ surf ‘n’ turf menu served in the midst of an ‘upbeat’ bar scene.” The dining room was added in 1981, when owners Jon and Bill Nordhem bought what was previously Murray’s Used Bookstore and transformed it from food for thought into food for… well, you know.
In the summer months, you can enjoy a pleasant afternoon or evening in the sidewalk café that runs along both Cleveland and Dickens. The patio is filled with white plastic tables and chairs between a few trees. Flower boxes can be found on the white fence, at the base of the picture windows with “Four Farthings” stenciled in gold lettering, and up above where second floor windows have been boarded over and painted with small murals. With its English pub-like feel, the Four Farthings has been a great place to for a meal with a date or for those in their 30s-40s looking for “good conversation” with strangers (wink wink, nudge nudge).
“At 2060 is the Four Farthings Pub, managed by Ron Fletcher. Old English in style, with paneled and plastered walls and beamed ceilings, the place has been in business for over a year and is popular with beer-drinking young people of the neighborhood.”– excerpt from Kay Loring’s Chicago Tribune article, “Walking Tour: A Melting Pot Along Lincoln Av.”
(August 1, 1969)
Today, older yupsters and Lincoln Park Trixies flock to the Four Farthings. Because of this, as well as the success of its similar yet bigger cousin John Barleycorn’s Memorial Pub (Lincoln), the Alumni Club has transformed into Lion Head Pub, renovated so that it also has dark wood paneling and prime rib on the menu. While highly popular as a tavern, the Four Farthings could be known as a top-notch restaurant if not for all the lechery. Regardless, the place is a Chicago classic and even earned a mention by characters in the film Guilty as Sin (supposedly based in Chicago but actually filmed in Toronto). For more information, check out the Four Farthings Tavern & Grill website. See you there, Nigel.
Old-School Four Farthings