“A Classic Old Style Neighborhood Saloon”
Like a combination of Sterch’s down the block and Kendall’s next door, Kelsey’s appeals to the Lincoln Park hordes with sports on the televisions, Golden Tee, pool, a classic Chicago neighborhood bar environ, and one of the most impressive bar-backs in the city. Too bad it’s not bigger or maybe it could even give John Barleycorn’s Memorial Pub a run for its money. Whatever the case, Kelsey’s is a good place for North Side craic. Just don’t get it confused with Kendall’s or Kincade’s (under the same ownership), Kelly’s Pub, Kasey’s, or any other bar beginning with “K.”
“On the weekends the fratitude is out of control, meaning you can expect to be crammed face to armpit with hygiene deficient meatheads, much hollering back and forth over the noise, and an aneurysm trying to get a drink.”– Shecky’s Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002
To find Kelsey’s, just look for the 50’s diner-like neon signs – one that hangs out over the street and one that hangs above the door, just under the tiny multi-colored awning. A long, long wooden bar that would make owner of the Long Room jealous runs along the south end of the bar with a legion of high-backed, wooden barstools standing in front, old-fashioned lights hanging overhead, and illuminated glass shelving that stretches to the ceiling and holds a sea of liquor behind it. Across from the bar is a smattering of wooden cocktail tables. In-between them and the bar is just enough room to let out your beer belly. Just don’t knock over that Lincoln Park Trixie you’ve been salivating over all night…
“For the button-down Lincoln Park brotherhood and the women who love them. Lamest juke on the block.”– The Official Chicago Bar Guide (2001)
If the somewhat less-than-cerebral conversation doesn’t spark your interest, take in the game broadcast on the big screen at the east end of the front room or head to the back for Golden Tee, pool or both. If that’s not doing it for you, have something to eat (besides the free popcorn). Half-pound burgers with fries are $1 on Monday nights, $0.20 buffalo wings are featured on Tuesday nights, patrons destroy the complimentary buffet every Friday between 4-7 p.m., and complimentary hot dogs jam patrons’ gobs on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Additional drinking space can be found in the smallish party room downstairs, featuring a tiny bar and a smattering of cocktail tables. I’m not sure why you’d want to party down there as there’s plenty of action upstairs. Anyhow, when it’s time to head to the next bar (like Beaumont’s for late-night), be careful not to slip on the Glascott’s Groggery-like white, hexagonal ceramic tile floor with all the spilled beer as you’re walking out.
Prior to its days as Kelsey’s, the place once served as “Der Red Barron” and was run by Herbert Schmid dating back to 1970. “There’s no entertainment, but the ceiling of varnished magazine covers gives you plenty to stare at. There’s a friendly tip over the bar: ‘Save Lincoln Avenue wildlife, tip the bartender,” according to Cheryl Lavin in her Chicago Tribune article, “Walking Tour of Eats and Arts and Shops and All that Jazz,” (June 23, 1978).
While Kelsey’s isn’t the most sought after bar, it attracts Lincoln Avenue spillover traffic, pub crawls like the 12 Bars of Christmas and those that think they’re actually in Kendall’s – interesting in that it may have been a neighborhood joint in a previous life before the descent of recent college grads and suburbanites upon the area. If you like Kelsey’s (or Kendall’s), be sure to check out the two other installments under the same ownership, Casey Moran’s in Wrigleyville and O’Donovan’s in North Center. For more information on this installment, check out the Kelsey’s website. How YOU doin’?