Editor’s note: Lakeview Links has the dubious distinction of being the first Chicago bar to bite the dust in 2006, just edging out Tiny Lounge. The entire structure has been leveled along with the shell next to it that stood vacant on the corner of Belmont and Wilton for ages. Not even the transformation into the “Bottom Lounge” could save it, though a new Bottom Lounge has opened on Lake Street in the warehouse district.
What was once a Swedish temperance hall, couldn’t be placed farther on the opposite extreme in its present incarnation as Lakeview Links. The Links offers male patrons a bare-bones oasis to drink cheaply, watch the game, play some Golden Tee, have a game of pool, and ogle the chicks that frequent the place when cover bands play. Recently, the Links has become even better, with its latest upstairs renovation and exterior facelift.
Lakeview Links is located just north of Belmont, on the discontinuous Wilton Avenue. The Links is a stone’s throw from the Belmont Brown, Red and Purple Line El stop, as well as from Ann Sather’s, Pizza Capri, Leona’s, and the Brew & View (Vic Theater). The Links is also located in front of one of the nastiest alleys on the North Side. This alley attracts gay dudes from Berlin that want to get it on, homeless people, rats, and people like me shooting paint balls at Torstenson’s Glass Company. My recommendation: stay the hell out of this alley, especially at night, and stick to the street. Don’t get me wrong: the area around the Links is very safe, but the alley attracts a wide variety of lecherous activity.
When you walk up to the slender arched-doorway of Lakeview Links, you’ll be greeted by at least one doorman who will check everyone’s ID and collect the $5 to $7 cover charge (when bands are playing). The first aspect of the Links’ recent restoration has been the repainting of the façade. Instead of a grungy green, the wooden archways are now painted maroon and off-white, with green trim. Even the logo has been changed from a picture of golfers clad in knickers to a tasteful, yet plain, sign with only “Lakeview Links Spirits & Sports, Chicago, Illinois,” painted on it. The old logo looks as though it has morphed into a picture of a strange band, which can be found on the Links’ website (see below).
Inside, the beer-soaked wooden floor leads you to a coat check on your left and a metal beer tub on your right. Straight ahead lies the main barroom with cocktail table seating, two cork dartboards, red-painted walls with worn wooden paneling, a stuffed swordfish, shark and deer’s ass mounted on the wall, two big screens, a Golden Tee machine, and a worn wooden bar on the right-hand side. One thing that the Links excels at is making sure everyone is served efficiently. There are always at least two bartenders, and you never have to wait for your beer. On the right side of the barroom is the entrance to the room with the stage. Just through this entryway is the second of two metal beer tubs, which is incredibly and dangerously convenient when the band is on. Bands perform Thursday through Saturday on a carpeted, elevated stage on the west side of the room. Before bands play, and while less popular bands are on stage, cocktail tables fill the room and a variety of sporting events are displayed on three big screens and several televisions on the north wall. Thin posts hold up the cement ceiling, and there is an impressive-sized sound booth at the back. The windows are covered with black shades, although the Links’ kitchen can be clearly viewed through large windows from the sidewalk.
To the right of the front doors lie linoleum-covered stairs leading down to one set of bathrooms and up to the pool room. The bathroom downstairs often have a line as these bathrooms serve the entire ground level.
Lakeview Links gets its name from the 18-hole miniature golf course that used to be located upstairs. Apparently, the mixture of people drinking heavily and playing mini-golf upstairs was not a profitable, or safe, combination. Pool tables with purple felt were then brought in and filled up the large room. On a recent visit, I noticed that the upstairs area had gone through yet another renovation. A bar was added on the south wall, and a few pool tables were moved out to make room for shuffleboard game (like that at Toons) and a basketball game (like that at North Beach). Seating, in addition to a few stools at the bar and a smattering of cocktail tables around the room, is now available on three-seater, vinyl banquettes both in the TV are in southwest corner of the room, as well as in front of the windows on the east end of the room. The back room still hosts a few ping pong tables as well as the second half of the new bar. The renovations upstairs did not include upgrading the makeshift bar on the north wall of the room (with its fancy, bare plywood shelving), finishing the scuffed cement floor, or adding a door or urinals to the men’s bathroom. For now, guys continue to have the pleasure of peeing in a metal trough, which is still preferable to the john at Hangge Uppe’s. The entire upstairs often has private parties, hosting up to 500 of your closest friends, but is usually open to the public after 10:00 p.m. on those nights.
Thankfully, the bubble hockey remains. However, much to my chagrin, a friend of mine pointed out the the game had been “PC-ified.” Instead of the U.S. being pit against arch rival, and Cold Ware enemy Russia, players in Canadian jerseys now opposed the Americans. We noticed this because two of the Russian players remain: one of the center players and the goalie, with the latter still having “Russia” painted on his little red plastic body. Why did they have to do that? What greater rivalry exists in hockey than the U.S. vs. Russia, as exemplified in the 1980 Winter Olympics (in which, the underdog Americans prevailed)?
The crowd at Lakeview Links consists mainly of rowdy, post-college types attracted to the cheap beer and the few chicks wearing halter tops. More girls appear when cover bands like Thunder & Lightning, Common Ground and Underwater People play. Except for the bands previously mentioned, most cover bands playing at the Links are usually not yet deemed worthy of playing larger venues like Cubby Bear or Joe’s. Most of these bands seem to rotate between the Links and Hog Head McDunna’s, Coyle’s Tippling House and the Wise Fool’s Pub, in what seems to be a small venue, cover band circuit.
Thursdays at the Links are the best, although Wednesdays when the bartenders will flip a coin to see if you will pay for your beer is a close second. For a $4 cover charge, you get $1 domestic bottles, $2 imports, $1 well drinks, $0.10 buffalo wings (greasy but good), free pool between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., and a band plays downstairs. Lately, a one-man-band named Arthur Lee has been performing. Arthur Lee plays covers with an acoustic guitar but, before each song, records a loops of bass, percussion and rhythm guitar beats. These loops are played back by the soundman to recreate the sound of a backing band – he does this very well as it sounds very much like the original songs played by an entire band. Arthur Lee takes requests, but lays out six rules for the audience to follow in order to hear desired songs. Of note is “Rule #6: ‘Freebird’ is not free – playing the song will cost $25 or $1 per note of the guitar solo.” I have noticed that one unannounced rule is that Arthur Lee often “forgets” songs requested by male patrons, while cute girls get their songs played immediately, no matter how bad. This was evidenced by the following: a friend of mine had tried to get “The Weight” (originally performed by The Band – the one that goes, “Take a load off Fanny…”) played on numerous occasions; when my date that night asked for it to be played, it was performed without hesitation.
Wednesdays feature $2 bottles. Both specials guarantee that you can get loaded for under $15. The beer selection consists of five beers on tap and 14 in bottles – including Schlitz, most importantly. Aside from the wings, I am unclear if any other food is served as the website proclaims the kitchen is once again open but no menus could be found. Hmmm…
New Year’s Eve 1997
The evening started off well-enough. I was on the heels of my Transatlantic Christmas Party Adventure, and my date had just flown in from London to see me. I was stoked. Her, in a short, black cocktail dress and I, in shirt and tie, were ready to go for an evening soaked with champagne. We went to a friend’s cocktail party on Seminary to start off the evening. Everyone was dressed up and looking forward to the new year. We headed out to Lakeview Links, for their all-you-can-drink deal that had cost us $75 each. Once there, the drinks went down like water and everyone was getting exceedingly loaded. After a while, my date began to tell me about how it was her tradition back home to kiss as many guys as she could following the year’s turnover at midnight. “That doesn’t bother you, does it?” she asked. Now, why on Earth would that bother me? The thought of my date kissing every dude in the room? It did. I tried to imagine myself trying to kiss as many girls as possible in the room, which produced the mental image of me attempting to kiss the first girl, getting slapped, and thrown out.
This is where my evening began its rapid decline. After the traditional hugs were exchanged between my friends, sans kisses, it turned out that the only person she kissed was me after all. I was happy about that, until she started to talk to and dance with just about every guy in the place, instead. Perhaps that was her way of compensating for the lack of kissing. She also stepped up her drinking at this point. At one point, I took her aside, partly to get her away from all the other guys in the room and partly to try to get back with her. The drunken conversation quickly turned ugly, and I was slapped “for dramatics”. It was not long after this point that the band stopped playing, and the “last call for alcohol,” was made. At this point, my date was so drunk that she began rolling around the stage, which was covered with broken glass. This provided everyone a good look up her dress at her black thong. I collected her and we left to walk over to my place only a few blocks away. Well, that year the Siberian Express was rolling through Chicago and the temperature outside was around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, below zero, with a wind chill around minus 50. All my date had on was her short, black cocktail dress (and thong). She literally froze up, ten feet outside the door. At this point, a cab was impossible to come by as hundreds of people were looking for one and she refused to make the 15 minute walk back to my place so we headed across the street to the Melrose (now Clarke’s). There, a large group of boisterous drag queens, all of which were over 6’4″, where trying to cram into the place. There were too many to all get in, and so my drunken counterpart got into a yelling match with them over keeping the door shut. We ultimately made it back to my place after I ate and she passed out in the booth. That signaled the end of my time with that girl.
Ladies and gentlemen, the bar is OPEN!
On the other hand, a highlight of that fateful New Year’s Eve followed the announcement of “last call.” Having been distracted by my date’s antics, we hadn’t thought about heading up to the bar for a last round of drinks. However, just as we all finished our last drink my friend walked up and asked, “Anyone need a drink?” Satisfied by our resounding collective response of “Yeah!” he opened up his massive winter coat, flung his arms wide, and proclaimed: “Ladies and gentlemen, the bar is OPEN!” Beers were then produced from what seemed to be 100 pockets, and everyone had not one but two beers to guzzle before they kicked us to the curb 10 minutes later.
While the location has changed hands many times, most recently “Crosscurrents Cabaret,” Lakeview Links Spirits & Sports has been steady since the late 1980’s. The Links is a great place if you’re a guy, fresh out of school, and with a bunch of friends looking to have a sloppy-drunk night where you might meet some girls but will probably go home alone. With six big screens and over 30 televisions, the Links is also a great place for you and your buddies to watch your favorite Chicago sports team lose. Girls can have a great time at the Links as well, as there’s loads of young guys and cover bands that play all the recent stuff heard on Q101 and the Mix. Overall, the Links is like a big college bar – not much to look at, college prices, numerous televisions and pool tables, cheesy bands, and which can be either very fun or very frustrating. Shot, anyone?
Old-school Lakeview Links