Editor’s Note: the old-school Lakeview stalwart, along with its all-you-can eat fish fries and fried chicken specials, has closed and been replaced by yet another “Irish” pub called Paddy Long’s [tear].
Lawry’s Tavern, not to be confused with Lawry’s Prime Rib just off the Magnificent Mile (of no relation), is one of the last of an endangered species: the neighborhood tavern. Many, like Marge’s Pub, Metro Club, Moonraker, and Schulien’s have shuttered their doors when the owner has died or have gone the way of purchase and renovation – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Few, like Sterch’s, J&R Tap, Johnnie’s Lounge, the Schubert Inn, and Friar Tuck, remain that offer an oasis for neighborhood residents from their work, stress at home and the weekly deluge of suburbanites who descend upon the city every Friday and Saturday night. And for a local saloon, Lawry’s is one of the best of its breed with its signature all-you-can-eat fish & chips on Friday and cheap beer everyday.
The Lakeview institution, simply known as “Lawry’s” in part because of its humble, pink neon sign in the small front window surrounded by glass blocks and red brick, is located smack-dab in the middle of a residential strip along Diversey, just west of Sheffield Avenue. A small white Lawry’s Tavern sign, hanging from the facade of a yellow, two-story, wood frame building that houses the bar, subtlety advertises the joint during the day. It’s one of those places, at least for yours truly, that one may pass by a hundred times before ever stopping in like other joints you may quickly forget about like the Local Option, Beat Kitchen or Augie’s. You’d be wise to as, given its flash-less appearance, you’re sure to appreciate what lies inside. Step through a set of double wood and glass plate doors and you’ll find a long narrow room with beige linoleum, green and tan painted walls and an ornate, red-painted tin ceiling. Never mind the Slaughtered Lamb look you may receive upon entry (ala American Werewolf in London), pull up a seat at one of the cocktail or low-slung tables featuring red and white checkered tablecloths and vinyl-padded chairs that can be found along the east wall of the bar, and hang your jacket on one of the coathooks. More adventurous souls may want to pull up a black leather-topped chrome barstool at the worn wooden bar that stretches halfway down the west wall, where there’s more gray hair and potbellies than you can shake a stick at, and have a chat with the locals.
“The place is comfortable, conversations are pleasant and the drinks aren’t expensive.”Dennis McCarthy, The Great Chicago Bar & Saloon Guide (1985)
The best time to go is Friday evening, between 6:30 and 10:00 p.m., when Lawry’s serves up some of the best fried sole in the city during their all-you-can-eat fish fry for a mere $6.75 – cash only, please. Baked orange roughy and fried shrimp are also available but, although they’re good, forget about it and go with the fish. Your meal starts out with a small bowl of coleslaw, very good by itself, and then a plate featuring two pieces of fried sole, shoestring French fries (fried to perfection), a plastic cup of tartar sauce, and a wedge of lemon. If you’re like my girlfriend, they’ll be happy to supply you with plenty of lemons to drown your fish in. Lawry himself was patient with multiple citrus requests as it turns out that his wife, the gray-haired waitress, loves the same with her “supper.” It’s all so simple, but so good – better even than the Duke of Perth and Red Lion, who are both better known for their fish & chips. For those not into fish as much or who happen to stop in on another night, Wednesdays and Saturdays feature some of the city’s best fried chicken and pork chops. “There is NO place on earth to get better fried chicken! I’ve been eating their chicken for 35 years and have yet to find better fried chicken,” according to Barbara Niklitsch from Schaumburg’s recent posting on Metromix. Just thinking about it makes me salivate… All pub delicacies at Lawry’s are made in the hovel-like kitchen at the north end of the bar by Lawry himself, also known as the owner – Lawrence A. Price, while decked out in his finest chef whites with name proudly embroidered on the front. Sundays during football season brings with it the promise of free hot dogs and chili. And, speaking of chili, be sure to check out Lawry’s annual chili cook-off held every March. According to Jaimii Shin of one-time website, “Crazy Chili,” while the chili is judged blindly by the audience it helps if you bring your friends for support. A golf outing and casino boat trip are also held annually.
While you’ll have to be content with frozen Tombstone pizza on all other non-fried nights, you can console yourself with Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Labatts, Leinenkugel, Miller Light, Sam Adams, and Pabst on tap (more available in bottles), while enjoying free popcorn served in small wooden bowls. Behind the bar, you’ll also find a selection of cancer sticks, wooden shelving that holds a plethora of booze, two sets of mounted deer antlers, and a guest bartender every Monday night (sign up at the bar if you’re interested). Neon beer signs compliment several TVs throughout the room and a big screen television screen that dominates the south wall. Here, you can share the despair of Chicago sports enthusiasts-masochists, as local teams get clubbed like baby seals. While not known as a sports bar today, Dan Rafter in Barfly’s Guide to Chicago’s Drinking Establishments points out: “…Lawry’s was the first neighborhood tavern to feature a big screen TV. At one time, it was even the first to provide color sets. And in the 1960s, when the Chicago Bears couldn’t win enough games to sell out Soldier Field, Lawry’s was one of the few places that televised the blacked-out games.” If the game’s over or you’re not a glutton for punishment, further entertainment can be had at the video slot machine, jukebox, and Golden Tee in the southeast corner of the room or on the pool table and cork dartboard at the saloon’s north end, both of which are free but not available during dinner time.
“Lawry’s is just like the basement of a childhood friend. The place where you hung out, shot pool, drank beer and then stayed for dinner when the parents got home.”Shecky’s Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002
The original Lawry’s was opened in 1934 in Lincoln Turner Hall across the street. Three years later, on June 1, 1937, Lawry’s moved across the street to its present location. Lawry himself took over the bar when his father passed away in 1959 when he was just 21. Over the years, Lawry’s has attracted multiple generations of regulars and even lured Mike Royko (of Billy Goat Tavern fame) and Studs Terkel even stopped in for a drink, and were once filmed together on WTTW’s Image Union. Lawry’s was also featured in one of Studs Terkel’s books, The Great Divide. Today, the fish fry, cheap beer, fried chicken, and even the annual Christmas party continue to attract young and old neighborhood denizens alike. While many of the bar’s regulars may be hesitant to welcome newcomers, especially if perceived to be yuppies straying in from the popular Halsted and Diversey bar district located just to the east, Lawry’s has a certain undeniable charm about it that helps ensure its ongoing success. For more information, check out the Lawry’s Tavern website. Atta boy, Lawry.
Lawry’s history from the Lawry’s Tavern website (reprinted here as the site could go at any moment):
Always a family business, for two generations all family members have done their part:
- Lawry (father) – an owner for more than 22 yrs.
- Justina (mother) – an owner, cook, cleaner, and fill in bartender for almost 50 yrs.
- Lawry (current owner) – has done every job there is to do for over 48 yrs.
- Jackie (wife/present owner) – filled in bartending, waitressed and cooked for almost 20 yrs.
- Veronica (daughter) – a dishwasher then waitress for almost 10 yrs.
- Bob (son-in-law) – a substitute cook
- Lisa (granddaughter) – a calendar stuffer, table setter, busser and dishwasher
- Linda (granddaughter) – a calendar stuffer, table setter, busser and dishwasher
- Stephen (son) – a bus-boy/glass washer to start, grew up into a substitute cook and fulltime bartender
- Theresa (daughter) – a dishwasher and table busser for (9 yrs), also grew up to bartend, waitress and cook. Still fills in as needed.
- Rosemary (sister) – a helper with everything from her youth cutting the french fries through the present bussing tables
- Christine (niece) – a master dish/glass washer (no silverware-please) and all around helper.
- Edward (nephew) – a guest bartender and all around helper