Editor’s note: since this page was originally written, Hamilton’s has undergone a transformation from pub to “bar & grill.” I haven’t been inside, but the cool marquis and awnings are gone and the wooden facde has been painted green and red (making it look like Emerald Isle and just about any other “Irish” pub in Chicago you can think of.
Hamilton’s is everything you’d want in a college bar: it’s big, offers cheap booze and pub grub, and has a long history of getting local university students loaded. While more seasoned bar-goers might avoid it like the plague citing its dingy surroundings and a crowd that would make someone in their mid-20s feel old, Hamilton’s attracts Loyola students in droves. Throw in a certain kind of charm that only a 75-year-old pub can possess and you’ve got a bonafide Chicago classic that ranks up there with other hugely popular college joints like Kelly’s Pub (DePaul), Hawkeye’s (UIC), Woodlawn Tap (U of C), and Tommy Nevin’s (Northwestern).
Sometimes referred to as Hamilton’s Lounge, Hamilton’s Pizza & Pub or just “Hammy’s,” the bar correctly known as Hamilton’s Pub can be found way up north on Broadway, just south of Devon and next to an odd six-story red brick building with too few windows in the Edgewater neighborhood (which itself is sometimes mistaken as Rogers Park or Uptown). The pub can easily be spotted with its bright green painted woode façade. Sadly a fairly mundane sign replaced the giant, ageing, Gold Star-like marquis, that once hung over a green & white striped awning that stretches to the street. As you walk in, be sure to have your fake ID ready for the bouncer. Cute girls will have no problems getting in and guys will have to fork over $3 during peak times (Thursday through Saturday).
Once inside, you’ll find a worn wooden palace. The floor, tables, stairs leading up to the apartments above, and long wooden bar that runs along the north end of the room have soaked up more cheap beer than Harry Caray did in all the Cub games he broadcasted (speaking of which, Harry would no doubt be amused to know that Hamilton’s spelled backwards is snot-limah). Just about the only thing that isn’t made of wood is the cement ceiling with several fans hanging from it. A smattering of taps spew forth more domestic swill into glass steins than you can shake a stick at. “The on-tap beer selection is poor, but you don’t want to drink it anyway. The sign out front says Hamilton’s was established in 1933 and I would bet the taps haven’t been cleaned since day one. There is a weird taste to all the on-tap beers that is unsettling and if you happen to get really drunk on pitchers it makes for quite a hangover the next day. Opt for bottled beer.” Cautionary words, from former Loyola student Big Joe. Behind the bar a cheeky sign exclaims, “FREE BEER TOMORROW” over a Southern Comfort drinks machine as three televisions help regulars pass the time during the day and join eleven other boob-tubes as background din at night. Additional seating can be found at tables by the pay phone and in front of windows looking onto Broadway.
Stepping past the Golden Tee cubbyhole in the front room, you’ll find a rear area that features a tiny pool table and a few pinball machines. Through a passage beyond this mini arcade is another room that makes up the south end of the establishment. This area is filled with exposed brick, low-rider tables, and banquet hall chairs and is closed off during the day. In the back, you’ll find a cat’s eye-shaped bar, dozens of bar stools and a dance floor. The latter of which draws hordes of students primarily from Loyola and also from Northwestern who emerge from their cliques to get to know their classmates better while old school rap and the latest overplayed college rock blares over the sound system. Bands are occasionally featured for a small cover charge.
Like the beer selection, the pub grub at Hamilton’s is nothing to write home about. On the other hand, there’s a good selection of fried appetizers, large sandwiches and greasy pizza. Even a few salads can be found. The most notable specialties are the Hamilton Burger, made up of a half-pound grease patty topped with three kinds of cheese, bacon, mushrooms and onions, and the Broadway Burger, which is swimming in chili, cheese, onions, and bacon to top it off. Both rival that of nearby Moody’s Pub. You can feel your arteries hardening just thinking about it, can’t you? My own experience is that the food is decent, the fries are weak, and there were semi-melted Kraft cheese slices on my chicken caliente (served also with cholula sauce and jalapenos). Whatever you order, you’d be hard pressed to spend more than $8 on food, particularly with a rotating selection of daily specials. Half-sized pitchers of Bud & Bud Light for $4.50 on Saturday nights help ensure that your Sunday morning is as difficult as your last calculus exam.
“Loose lipped doorman boasted to author, ‘Hell, 80 percent of our clientele is underage.'”– Official Chicago Bar Guide (2001)
Even though the wet t-shirt contests and flame-blowing bartenders are a thing of the past, Hamilton’s is still one of the best places to get your drink on, eat cheap, pick up college students, watch Wildcat football and Rambler basketball, and karaoke on Monday nights. As a result, Jerry Sheehy’s loveable dive has often been nominated for Best College Bar/Club in Citysearch and Metromix, and Best Bar by the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce. Not bad for a bar that’s been around since the Great Depression, back when the joint was owned by Richard Doan & Sons. For more information, check out the Hamilton’s Bar & Grill website. Go Ramblers!