Have you ever gone up Broadway and seen the bar that looks like the top of a giant beer barrel sunken partially into the ground, just before the Dominick’s (prior to its burning down)? Then you’ve seen Friar Tuck. While seemingly forbidding on the outside with its narrow windows that you can’t really see into and dark, heavy wooded exterior, Friar Tuck is a rather warm and inviting place on the inside.
Step into the giant cask through the thick wooden door and under the faded Friar Tuck’s sign. The first thing you’ll see is the long, rectangular bar that in the middle of the room. It looks like a shingled, wooden hood used to surround the bar but now has been cut away so that only the front third remains, suspended from the ceiling with rusty chains. Around the corner by the front window is a pay phone and the Golden Tee machine. Next to that is one of three regulation dartboards and the wall is covered with corkboard complete with dozens of patron pictures tacked to it. On the right hand side of the room are high wooden tables with convenient footrests, and a brick-enclosed fireplace. In the corner of the room are the other two dartboards. This area has a wooden floor and also serves as the stage for karaoke on Wednesdays and Thursdays and blues on Monday nights. There are also two video poker machines and four televisions scattered around the room.
While the beer selection is fairly limited to mass-produced American brews, the $4 mini-pitcher deal is quite attractive. You can even get yourself Busch on draft. Friar Tuck’s does not serve food but feel free to have it delivered. They might even let you use the phone behind the bar to place your order.
The crowd is what really seems to make Friar Tuck a good bar. Most people have known each other for years and often travel together on bar-sponsored outings. The clientele tends to be older neighborhood types, but the place does attract some cell phone-toting young professionals that now predominate the area. On my last visit, a group of friends and I got to know one of these regulars named Mark.
Friar Tuck’s is owned by Angelo and Christine Como, and was opened in 1970. That is when Mark started coming in, and has been a regular ever since. On the night I was there, Mark was particularly proud of the music playing as it was a CD that he had recently burned and, after ample coaxing, persuaded the owners to put it in the jukebox (it’s CD #57). Mark was in such high spirits that he told us an interesting story (if you’re squeamish, skip the next paragraph).
For some reason (and I don’t want to know why), Friar Tuck’s once happened to have an inflatable sheep on hand. This sheep became a big hit with regulars thanks to a hole, strategically placed in its “hind quarters” just large enough for a shot glass. The technique for taking such a shot is to put the sheep’s back legs onto your shoulders, place the shot glass in the aforementioned aperture, and tilt your head back with the sheep’s rump pressed up against your face. Eventually, after such popularity, the poor sheep wore out to everyone’s dismay. However, on Mark’s last birthday, Christine bought a “virgin sheep” (as Mark calls it), and Mark had to do a shot “not of his choosing” out of it. This no-longer virgin sheep was then produced by Mark out of the owner’s office, and the proper technique was demonstrated in disturbing detail. The old sheep can still be found, stapled to the wall in effigy, in the back by the Budweiser blimp and under one of two giant copper ventilation hoods.
If the inflatable sheep weren’t enough, Christine also bought Mark a back brush and fragrant soaps that he reluctantly accepted and now vigorously uses. “There was lather everywhere!” he says, making wild hand gestures. Mark was so excited that he said, “Christine and Angelo love you and you and especially you, all such wonderful friends,” about a dozen times.
Mark also told us how he has only shaved his beard three times in the last 30 years, twice as part of a bar bet at Friar Tuck’s. On one of these occasions, both he and another patron agreed to shave their facial hair, which included Mark’s beard and the other guy’s mustache. To do this, Angelo brought out a razor that turned out to be rather dull. The other guy’s mustache was shaved to reveal a hair lip, and Mark’s beard was shaved off – in the process, Angelo also cut a gash into Mark’s neck which bled well into the next day. Mark also used to be roommates with Greg Gumble and tells an interesting story about how his dad thought he was Hawaiian, and how his brother Bryant fell down the stairs at Fat Black Pussy Cat (now Monsignor Murphy’s across the street) after a night of drinking and had to be given stitches at St. Joe’s Hospital.
With its cement floor, black-painted drop ceiling and worn wooden everything, Friar Tuck’s is a bona fide dive bar. With the recent closings of nearby Big Daddy’s and the Lakeview, Friar Tuck’s is one of the last good dive bars in the area and easily is the most unique. There is Monsignor Murphy’s across the street, but that bar seems to attract obnoxious types, both young and old, and does not have the same friendly atmosphere that Friar Tuck’s has. Regulars like Mark, and owners like Angelo and Christine have made Friar Tuck’s a great neighborhood bar. And, if Mark isn’t there, additional entertainment can be found during karaoke every Wednesday and Thursday night, and other nights occasionally feature live bands (formerly “Brother K’s Jam Session” on Monday nights).
I recommend the following for a weekday evening: head over to Reckless Records near the intersection of Belmont and Broadway and pick yourself up some used indie CDs. Then head over to New Peking, just down the block, for some of the best Chinese food on the North Side. If you’re more adventurous, check out New Tokyo across from New Peking for sushi (it’s a good thing that there hasn’t been any New Taipei sidewalk vendors in-between, or the US Navy would have to keep a battleship along Broadway). After you’re sated from your meal, head over to Friar Tuck’s for some blues, karaoke or just a chat with the locals. If you get a bit peckish as the night advances, don’t worry – there’s free popcorn. Additionally, Friar Tuck’s is also a great place to observe the annual Gay Pride Parade as they set up a grill in the southeast corner of the Dominick’s parking lot and sell drinks in plastic cups or pineapples (Bahama Mamas) inside. If you like Friar Tuck’s, also check out Monk’s Pub in the Loop and Moody’s Pub in Edgewater. For more information, check out the Friar Tuck website. Cheers.