Editor’s Note: Hi-Tops closed in 2007 and relocated to the former Gin Mill space in Summer 2008, and the original location has been transformed into another installment of Harry Caray’s, which is rather fitting considering that it is within eyeshot of the Harry Caray statue in front of Wrigley Field.
“Great food and sporting nightlife”
For over a decade, Hi-Tops has been one of the most loved, and most hated, sports bars in the Chicago. Because of its location within spitting distance of Wrigley Field, Hi-Tops attracts hordes of Cub fans all season long, before and after games. During the Cubs’ off-season, Hi-Tops continues to attract sports fans with its many big screens and dozens of televisions that show just about every sporting event playing. Hi-Tops also attracts Wrigleyville club-goers on the weekends when the bar transforms into a dance club, and karaoke is offered upstairs. The resulting hybrid sports bar-dance club, like Joe’s and nearby Slugger’s, gives something for everyone in the surrounding Wrigleyville and Lakeview neighborhoods, and beyond.
Hi-Tops is located in the heart of Wrigleyville, across the street from the 7-11 on Sheffield where Cub fans go to smuggle vodka into the game disguised as lemonade Big Gulps. Hi-Tops is also kitty corner to historic Wrigley Field, and the somewhat disturbing Harry Caray tribute statue in front of Gate D. Hi-Tops is housed in a large, two-story, red brick structure that used to be a warehouse. Some Hi-Tops patrons may remember when the bar used to be known curiously as the “Hi-Tops Cafe,” and the large red and navy blue-striped awnings that welcomed people to Wrigleyville (see picture below). Hi-Tops has since been remodeled with a new logo, new smaller black awning over the door, and, most importantly, all the windows now open out.
To get in, have your ID ready and be prepared to stand in line. Don’t worry, the lines usually don’t last long and are present only on weekends after Cub games, or after 10:00 p.m. on non-game days. At these busy times, Hi-Tops often charges a $5 cover to get in. I personally feel that this is exploitative of drunk people and should not be put up with, especially because all you are paying for is the honor of being there and listening to DJ’s spin dance music. My advice: if Hi-Tops is charging a cover, tell them to stick it up their collective kackers and head to one of the dozens of cover-less bars in the area, like John Barleycorn’s Wrigleyville (good bar, huge dance floor), Goose Island Wrigleyville (upscale sports bar) Redmond’s (great neighborhood bar), Irish Oak (one of the best Irish pubs), or spend your cover charge money on an actual band at Cubby Bear. If Hi-Tops isn’t charging a cover, or you feel strangely obligated to pay one, the doormen aren’t very selective but make sure you don’t have sandals on if you’re a guy. Ladies can wear whatever they like.
If everything is clicking, step through the plate glass double doors (also known as “Gate D½”) into this black & white linoleum and exposed brick expanse. Either get your Bud at the beer tub right inside the door, or your mixed drink in a plastic cup from the large, square wooden bar with its blue beveled lights in the middle of the room. Here at the bar, with its baseball cards laminated under a polyurethane coating, I have spent several cold April days when I though it was warm enough to take in a Cubs game. Once you’re set with alcohol, you have a few choices for where to go: the fairly sedate front room, the large, manic main room, or the upstairs lounge where it’s either karaoke or excellent people-watching during the day.
The front room offers seating at the bar and several cocktail tables, which have recently replaced the leather couch and the low-rider, cafeteria-style tables with their plastic red & white checkered tablecloths. If you’re looking for the couch in hopes of relaxing and watching your “Melrose Place” or “Beverly Hills 90210,” they’ve moved it upstairs and get a life. The front room has a four televisions, and an annoying SignCast TV next to the big screen. I believe all SignCast televisions should be banned, as they only show advertisements and bad videos that only regular patrons of the Gin Mill can appreciate (also owned by Hi-Tops proprietors). On the north wall, framed jerseys hang of Sammy Sosa, Ernie Banks, Kerry Wood, and a token Frank Thomas White Sox jersey. On the west wall, a nicely framed Budweiser sign hangs, which I believe, in addition to the Budweiser and Bud Light signs that hang on either side of the Hi-Tops logo (replacing the second story awning), is part of a contract between Budweiser and Hi-Tops to make Bud the beer of choice there. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bud and Bud Light cups and other promos become more commonplace. Miller fans beware. If you’re feeling restless, have a game of Golden Tee or pool (although sometimes covered up), which are across from the center bar on the south side of the room. The front room is also notable to my mind, as it was here that was my first time seeing a laptop in a bar. Sadly, I suspect it is not the last time.
The main room is the place to be at Hi-Tops. This cavernous space is two-stories high, and has a curved ceiling that is held up by thick wooden beams sporting college banners. In addition, a pair of legs from a ski lift protrudes from the ceiling, just opposite the large Cubs Old Style raft. During the day, this room is filled with cocktail tables (accommodating up to 400 people) at which you can sit, have some grub, and take in multiple games simultaneously on one of the dozens of televisions and big screens that surround the room. This a great place to take in college football or basketball games, as you can watch several games at one time. In addition, University of Illinois fans and University of Wisconsin fans will appreciate that both Chicago alumni chapters gather weekly at Hi-Tops to support the Illini and Badgers. For those who did not go to either school, I recommend heading to Hi-Tops when both teams play each other to see if blood is spilled.
The food at Hi-Tops consists of increasingly interesting pub grub, featuring Pat’s Pizza, Chicago-style deli sandwiches (including corned beef and pastrami), buffalo wings, salads, francheezies, brats, and a variety of burgers that includes “The Elvis” – a burger topped with guacamole and served with a Twinkie – for the low, low price of $7.25. The food is uncomplimented by service that is often atrocious. You can be sure that you will have to wait close to an hour for your food, and you will have to go to the bar to get your drinks in a timely manner. I once saw my waitress sitting with a group of other patrons for over 15 minutes while we waited for the check.
Fortunately, that evening was not a loss: it was the night I took in the 2001 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. This game was the only one I’ve ever seen that was interrupted, but it was for good reason: to honor both Cal Ripken, Jr., and Tony Gwynn who both retired at the end of that year. The stoppage was well worth it as both Ripken and Gwynn are not only future Hall-of-Famers, but also two of the most well-respected, good natured players of all time – players that increased the game’s level of integrity in the face of player strikes, owner lockouts and drug abuse. The game also featured Ripken winning the game’s MVP award, honorary coach Tommy Lasorda getting knocked on his ass with a broken bat, and the Mets’ Jon Lieber giving up back-to-back home runs to the American League (I normally favor the National League, but not when a Met is pitching).
After about 10:00 p.m., the cocktail tables are cleared from the parkay dance floor to make room for the dancers. There is also an the elevated area behind the dance floor that is populated by low-rider tables by day and patrons at night that like to shake it high up, in front of the masses in the same spring break-like way they do at Beaumont’s every night until 4:00 a.m. Recently, bands have increasingly played at Hi-Top’s on this stage, like Jesse the Beaver on Wednesday nights. A long wooden bar serves dance floor patrons on the east side of the room, right in front of the kitchen. The room also features framed photos of Jim McMahon and Gale Sayers, and giant framed Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, Honus Wagner, Nellie Fox, and Frank Robinson baseball cards. The cards are located to the left of the bathrooms, where I once observed a group of guys timing how long there buddy urinated following a Cubs game. He kept a steady stream going for over a full minute. Very impressive (in its own way).
If you get tired of downstairs at Hi-Tops, head to the upstairs lounge known as the “Skybox VIP Room” via the staircase located in the southwest corner of the first floor (directly opposite the front room’s big screen). This room accommodates up to 100 people and has its own set of bathrooms. The main feature of the Skybox is a stage for karaoke on nights when it is not booked for a private party, and is especially popular on Thursday night. This room also features a nice square wooden bar to your left as you enter the room. Grab one of the high-backed wooden chairs at the bar or one of the room’s many cocktail tables, or on the black leather couch in front of the stage (if you’re lucky). At night, a professional man and woman team host karaoke. If no one is brave enough to sing, they will – usually resulting in a stampede of people signing up to sing, in order to prevent this from happening. In addition to the usual drunks attempting to croon, I have also seen people get up to sing, complete with their own microphones. That never ceases to give me the heebie-jeebies. During the day, you can take in a game on one of the several televisions around the room and behind the bar, or amuse yourself by sitting at one of the windows. During warm days, these windows open out, offering a birds-eye view of the Addison and Sheffield crowds. On game days, this is a good vantage point at which to abuse fans from the opposing team as they walk by and to laugh at them when they look around, unable to tell where the insults are spewing from. Avid Hi-Tops patrons may have noticed that the upstairs has been redone. The space used to be known as “The Ascot Room,” where patrons played pool on one of two pool tables, and a DJ spun bluesy music on the weekends as part of the “Lava Lamp Lounge Party.”
The crowd at Hi-Tops requires a thick skin. The place attracts loutish sport fans, obscenely drunk Cub and opposition fans (whom often clash with one another on game days), karaoke singers that should be doing anything but, and pretty-boy and girl Lakeview-types and suburbanites that are there to dance after taking a dose of ecstasy. The music ranges from either cheesy retro tunes or techno, and puts people in the mood to get dirty on the dance floor and even nastier up on stage. If you’re wasted, it can be the coolest scene. If you’re sober, it offers some of the best entertainment in the city; I once saw a friend of mine chased literally around the room by a cute girl he wasn’t interested in. I recommend that you beware of Thursdays when it’s “College Night,” except for those of you that believe Grand Central and John Barleycorn’s Wrigleyville are the end-all, be-all of Chicago bars. As a special treat, the bouncers literally force everyone to leave less than five minutes after last call. My advice: move on before last call or get ready for a problem.
If you’re there to watch a game or to celebrate a Cubs victory (yeah, right), Hi-Tops is tough to beat in spite of nearby competition from Sports Corner, Murphy’s Bleachers, Yak-zies, and Bernie’s. Few places offer more space, more seating, or more televisions (eight big screens and 65 TVs). On the other hand, many places offer better food and far better service. For these efforts, Hi-Tops received one of three Editorial Nominees and was voted into the Audience Top 10 for Best Sports Bar, Best Dance Club and Best College Bar/Club in 2001, and a Top 20 Sports Bar by Metromix in 2000. For nightcrawlers, Hi-Tops’ “Ultimate Dance Party” is a good place to go to groove and try to pick up. I expect to see it one featured one day on MTV. While some are into both sides of Hi-Tops, many appreciate only one aspect of Hi-Tops’ “sporting nightlife,” causing them to avoid the place during the day or flee before the crowd comes in at night. Evidence of this can be found on the extensive lists of love and hate review entries found on some of the online Chicago entertainment guides. Whatever the case, I suggest that you check it out, but only if you have the appropriate expectations. High five, baby!
“The best sports bar in the free world, showing every sporting event there is”