While not one of the biggest, Gamekeepers Tavern & Grill is one of the best sports bars in Lincoln Park. It even outlasted the “Ultimate Sports Bar” formerly located across the street. What it lacks in space, it makes up for in atmosphere. Grab some food, watch the game and try not to let the bartenders get you too loaded. Whether it’s after volleyball or softball in the park, the Bears on Sunday, the allure of the lobster claw machine, or the desire to pick up on the Lincoln Park Trixies until 4am (5am Saturday). Gamekeepers is a great place to get your freak on.
Since 1984, Gamekeepers has anchored the southeast third of the six-corner Lincoln, Armitage and Sedgwick intersection, across from its Southern cousin Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap. With a multitude of satellites above and bright green awnings and plate glass windows below, Gamekeepers forms the foundation of a classic Chicago, three-story red-brick building with forest green-painted wooden trim. When it’s game time, head through wooden doors flanked by two green columns and have your ID ready for the doorkeeper perched just inside, particularly if you’re young and from the suburbs. Otherwise, he’ll take your explanations only to keep you from feeling that you have left something undone and the door will be shut.
Once inside Gamekeepers’ triangular, black & white checkered expanse, the wooden bar stands open to you running along the north end of the room. During the week, there aren’t many places more ideally suited for watching Cubs, Blackhawks, Bulls, or even lowly White Sox games than while sitting at the bar on one of the comfortable, high-backed, red-upholstered barstools. Games are projected onto two big screens that descend from the ceiling with smaller televisions sprinkled around for good measure (43 to be exact). Once you’ve ordered a beer (if in a bottle), the bartender will put a cobalt-blue pitcher of ice in front of you, place the same kind of beer you’ve just ordered in it, so that all you have to do when you’re ready for another is pull it out and drink it. After a short time later, they’ll write down that you took another beer and will replace it with yet another. Is it any wonder that this caused me to go home plastered on a Tuesday night and puke my guts up in the morning? My lord…
Photo Courtesy Andrew M. Across from this drunkard’s paradise stands a singular, beige-painted column that appears to hold up the ceiling (don’t run into it or you and the whole bar could be sorry). Surrounding that are cocktail tables smattered upon two levels of drinking, served by waitresses wearing “Indulge” on their t-shirts. As its name implies, Gamekeepers used to have more of a hunt-or-be-hunted atmosphere. Safari scenes were painted on the walls and Gamekeepers itself was one of the flagship singles bars on the North Side. It seems today that the name “Gamekeepers” no longer means one that looks after the animals hunted on his estate but, conversely, one who “keeps games” available for the animals (i.e., those that love professional sports). Now, a big screen hangs from the south wall and around it hangs UCLA, Eastern Illinois University, Purdue, Ohio University, and Southern Illinois University flags draped over wood paneled walls and amongst framed photographs of hockey fights and beer signs. This is curious as the bar supports Arkansas, Georgetown, LSU, Missouri, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and, for some reason, Clemson, as evidenced by laminated schedules of some of these teams. The occasional Northwestern watch party shows up, even though the Wildcats don’t. Bears games are viewed every Sunday and, for some unknown reason, Giants, Jets, and Vikings games are also shown so that one can watch the sad antics of Kerry Collins, Curtis Martin and the alligator-armed, cop-pushin’, pot smokin’ Randy Moss. Every day, patrons take full advantage of food and sports decked out in the finest t-shirts, baseball hats and sweatshirts available.
As you make your way towards the back room, accessible through an opening in the eastern wall, take notice of the curious machine. What looks like a lobster tank is actually an arcade game. For $3 or so, you can attempt to win a lobster by trying to pick it up with a mechanical claw. If you are successful, a Mexican busboy will then appear out of nowhere, take your lobster and have the kitchen cook it up for you. Is it me, or is there something very disturbing in that? The fate of a small, helpless animal hangs in the balance by the novelty of a horrific bar game and the skill level of hungry, inebriated people.
Beyond the lobster game is the gateway to the backroom, often blocked by a mob at the Golden Tee machine (you knew they had one). A rickety wooden staircase stands opposite the Golden Tee, which leads down to the bathrooms. It was here in the can that I ran across an overflowing urinal. In the eternal wisdom of Gamekeepers Tavern & Grill, a black garbage bag was placed to catch the “runoff.” It looked like it was about to explode as I left. Can you imagine what it would have been like if the “Bag o’ Pee” broke while you were standing next to it? To this day, a shudder runs through my body every time I think of it.
The rear chamber of Gamekeepers, with its drop ceiling and beige linoleum that’s worn through so you can see the brick underneath like alleys nearby, offers an additional wooden bar and seating. More wooden paneling runs along the east room and plate glass windows overlook Lincoln. For entertainment, a pool table stands in front of the windows but is often covered when crowded as fights have a tendency to break out if it isn’t, and Gamekeepers joins Amp Rock Lounge as one of the few late-night bars in the area.
Originally conceived as an English country pub, complete with hunting prints and a motto of “proper manners, English style,” Gamekeepers has become an excellent sports bar and primo spot during March Madness (just get there early or be ready to stand). In addition, the tin ceiling and old-fashioned lights hanging from it gives the bar a uniquely Chicago flavor. For more information, check out the Gamekeepers website. Go Hokies!
“With constant updates of every pro and college game being played at any given moment, it is definitely the best place in the neighborhood to get into a fight with a complete stranger over something insipid and juvenile like wearing the ‘wrong’ baseball logo on your head.”–Shecky’s Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002