Grizzly’s Lodge

Editor’s Note: with a mighty whimper, Grizzly’s Lodge – one of our personal favorites – closed sometime during the Summer of 2007

“The best game in town”

Located up north on Lincoln Avenue in the North Center neighborhood and kitty-corner to Goldie’s, Grizzly’s Lodge is an intriguing neighborhood joint. In addition to an inviting atmosphere, several televisions playing sports and NTN, and friendly bartendresses, Grizzly’s also attracts those from farther abroad with its impressive selection of game on the menu.

The first thing you’ll notice about Grizzly’s Lodge are the huge grizzly bear murals on either side of the front door (along with a smaller raccoon one). That, and the giant plaster hand beckoning you into Grizzly’s front entrance. If that alone doesn’t draw you in, just read a bit further. Inside you will be met at the door by Grizzly himself: a hand-carved wooden bear decked out in sunglasses. You will then be faced with a difficult decision: swap fishing stories at the bar or pull up a table in the dining room.

The L-shaped bar is usually crowded with regulars taking in a game or playing NTN trivia while munching on free peanuts. If you play NTN, beware of “SMKNMN,” who usually dominates the game on weekends and who and has also racked up over five million Players’ Plus points. I once dueled with the Smoking Man, and while it pains me to admit this: I did not fare well. However, we banded together with a couple from Wisconsin (also at the bar at the time) to take Grizzly’s combined bar average to a Top 20 U.S. ranking twice in a row. Victory was sweet indeed. Also in the bar area is a Molson bottle opener that is actually the head of a hockey player (the bartender uses his teeth to open bottles), a cafeteria-like Mai Tai machine, Nordik Wolf Light sign, a large wooden mallet hanging over the bar, several trophy horns, Seagram’s Canadian Hunter signs, a Golden Tee machine, an electronic slot machine at the end of the bar, a big screen TV up front, and a noisy video poker machine along the center island seating area.

Grizzly’s has an excellent selection of brewskies: 25 draft beers and over 30 bottled beers. The entire selection is indicated by bottles as well as the widest, most interesting collection of tap handles I have ever seen. For mixed drink fans, Grizzly’s has a number of specialties, including Yukon Slush, Hair of the Bear, Log Splitter, and Klondike Mary.

The dining room also has a big screen, several tables, and tables along the side of the room outfitted with a small televisions per table. These side tables also have coat hooks in the shape of hands to hang your jacket on. The dining room boasts an impressive display of taxidermy on the wall, including a black bear, deer, elk, fox, coyote, and other smaller furry mammals, rivaling that of Will’s Northwoods. There is also a Moosehead sign with a large fake moose to stare at you while you’re eating, and Bacchus-like porcelain faces along the center divider of the room.

Elsewhere at Grizzly’s is an igloo-looking back room with a pool table, and a beer garden complete with plenty of wooden trellis. And guys, the men’s room is through the kitchen and on your left. There is also a room known as the “Cave,” which does double-duty as a place where boxes go to die, and where occasional bachelor parties go to start off the evening. At the back of the dining room stands a full-size replica of a small cabin, complete with a buffalo head mounted above the door and a dead tree with a birdhouse mounted to it. The cabin is deceptive, however. Inside is actually a room called “The Cave” that has imitation stone walls and ceiling, described as “Wisconsin Chic.” This is the room for area for private functions and bachelor parties. It is often unused, so if you’re looking for a down and dirty drinking den, the Cave is probably available.

The food also necessitates a difficult decision. Appetizers include blackened alligator and shrimp poppers. Entrees include salads, sandwiches (tater tots on the side), steaks, and wild game. Game entrees include quail primavera, elk steak, venison goulash, wild boar chops, and buffalo burgers that would make Fred Flintstone salivate. Word has it that they will be adding zebra to the menu soon. The menu explains what each variety of game tastes like. The menu points out that most of the game to be had at Grizzly’s is much leaner than pork, beef, and even chicken. It makes one begin to wonder… There is also an all-you-can-eat fish fry on Fridays, and brunch on Sundays – perfect before Grizzly’s shuttle whisks you away to the Bears game. Grizzly’s also sponsors the local Chicago Football League (CFL) team, the Chicago Grizzlies. And you thought Chicago only had one bears football team.

“Grizzly’s menu features ‘the best game in town’ (venison, buffalo, alligator, boar), most of which is also mounted on the walls and can be seen being prepared in the kitchen en route to the can. Not into edible game? The bar offers two big screens and smaller, tunable TVs in the back. NTN trivia and Golden Tee provide interactive entertainment.”

– yours truly as featured in Time Out Chicago

Grizzly’s is truly lodge-like, offering warm refuge on cold winter days and cool breezes in their spacious beer garden in the summertime. My recommendation: head over to Grizzly’s for Sunday afternoon college basketball games, complete a Bloody Mary that comes with a colossal olive and a celery stalk so big you could beat a horse with it. Otherwise, Grizzly’s offers atmosphere for those looking to relax on the weekend – and if you find yourself up for some trouble, you can always head to the Lodge on Division for late-night. In recognition of its efforts, Grizzly’s Lodge was voted “Best Bar” (1997), having the “Best Bartender” (1997 – Ben Trowbridge) in Barfly Newspaper, and the food was rated 3.5 out of four forks in The Street & San Man’s Guide to Chicago Eats (2004) by Dennis Foley. For more information, visit the Grizzly’s Lodge website. Just take it from my Mom, who treated me to dinner at Grizzly’s for a recent birthday, “Grizzly’s Lodge was an interesting place, for sure. I did like it as it was something different. It had a little of everything.”

“Cooking mother would be jealous of”

Photograph taken by Carla G. Surratt of Picturing Chicago