Lincoln Tavern

“Chicago’s best kept secret”

Photo courtesy of unmikelyDeep in the heart of Bucktown lies a quiet Chicago institution, inspired by those found much further north in the Land of Cheese… Not to be confused with the tavern of the same name and predecessor to the original Billy Goat Tavern on Madison, this Lincoln Tavern has been family owned and operated since 1934. Locals love the tavern for its lodge-like decor, ribs and Friday night duck special, and atmosphere that gets even more relaxed the more PBR you consume at recession-friendly prices.

Lincoln Tavern is located at the northeast corner of Wolcott & Wabansia, a block west of the legendary Club Lucky. The facade consists of glass blocks framed in black with “Lincoln Tavern” spelled out in white, semi-calligraphic lettering that stands out sharply from the three-story, red-brick building around it. A narrow band of plate glass advertises chili, soup and sandwiches above a neon Budweiser sign depicting a pheasant, all of which lies below a glowing white Pabst Blue Ribbon sign with “Lottery Tickets Sold Here” promoted underneath.

Step through the wooden door and you’ll find a relaxed, comfortable space. A wooden bar with high-backed wooden barstools stretches halfway down the eastern wall of the front room and sports a handful of taps, including PBR with pitchers going for a ridiculously cheap $5. In fact, as you look around the bar, it’s like a museum of Pabst Blue Ribbon advertising with all the vintage signs, like the Chipp Inn further south. A lone television is usually tuned into WGN, especially when the news comes on, and lottery tickets are dispensed from the Illinois Lottery machine behind the bar. Across from the bar are a handful of low-slung tables with plastic tablecloths that are made to look like newspapers, along with beige vinyl chairs, right out of the 70s. When Mother Nature calls, you’ll find the facilities in the southwest corner of the front room, with a painting of female ducks over the women’s restroom and same for the gent’s.

“Plastic tablecloths protect tables from every type of food you would feed your spouse if you were trying to kill her, liver sausage, polish sausage and Italian beef sandwiches…”

Shecky’s Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002

Photo courtesy of AndrewCieslakThe wildlife theme continues with taxidermy on the walls, photos of hunting trips, chandeliers made from deer antlers, and with what looks like the outside of a log cabin made of wood painted a cream color, just beyond the bar. Walk a few steps and you’ll find the Lincoln Tavern’s restaurant space. This room was once an apartment of the original owners but was transformed into that of a Northwoods inn, similar to that of Will’s Northwoods Inn in Lakeview. The restaurant space features a stone fireplace set halfway down the eastern wall, taxidermy on the walls and more low-slung wooden tables. A few fake windows are set within the eastern wall, looking out across a painted woodland scene of geese flying over a lake and backlit to look like daylight. “Real” windows look out over Wabansia. The main story here is the Friday night duck special for $12.50, which is very popular, so diners are encouraged to phone first. The ribs and pork chops are quite popular at Lincoln Tavern, as are the corned beef and steak sandwiches served at lunchtime. The rest of the menu is limited but other specials are featured throughout the week and Lincoln Tavern hosts quarterly buffets of game, which is one of the few places in Chicago where you can find game now that Grizzly’s Lodge has closed. If you need some entertainment following your meal, check out such electronic classics as MegaTouch, Extreme Hunting and darts.

“If you catch young Stash, the bartender, on a good day, he might do something more than grunt at you. Also since this is a family-owned joint, the fireworks will fly on occasion. Ah, yes, there’s nothing quite like munching on a quality lunch while the proprietors bark insults at one another.”

– excerpt from The Street & San Man’s Guide to Chicago Eats by Dennis Foley (2004)

The building housing Lincoln Tavern dates back to 1890. It is said that a bar has operated out of the first floor since then, with a brief interlude as an ice cream parlor during Prohibition. Lincoln Tavern was established in 1934 and named after Lincoln Street, the north-south cross street, until it was renamed “Wolcott Avenue” in the 1940s. Albert and Sophie Folak took ownership of Lincoln Tavern in 1950, and the Folak Family has run the place ever since, with Bill Folak taking over in 1970 and his son, Bill Folak, Jr., now representing the third generation of ownership today. The dining room was added and renovated in 1988.

“If Billy looks at you like you just asked him to scrub your balls when all you’ve done is ordered a round of beers–don’t be deterred. Also, don’t wear hats when the dogs are running loose. The dogs hate hats. Service with a smile is for county fair concession stands, and they don’t serve cotton candy and corn dogs at the Lincoln. But they do serve cold beer in a relaxed (almost comatose) atmosphere, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. A great escape if you want to get away from the North/Damen/Milwaukee scene for a few.”

– Yelp reviewer, Andy M. (April 29, 2007)

Lincoln Tavern attracts a predominantly Bucktown neighborhood crowd and somewhat older than you’ll find at nearby Lottie’s Pub, Cortland Garage and Bucktown Pub. It’s a fairly quiet place most of the week and don’t be surprised if they close up early when it’s slow, but the food is great and you can’t help but have a good time. On your way out, don’t forget to buy yourself a lottery ticket – you never know when your ship might come in. For more information, you’ll need to call the bar as Lincoln Tavern doesn’t have a website.