The Lincoln Tap Room is nothing short of funky. The Tap promotes itself as, “a schmoozing, boozing, retro palace of joy…an island of tranquility in a sea of beer.” Consider the Tap a combination of Delilah’s, the Liar’s Club and J.T. Collins, which attracts a crowd consisting of cool neighborhood types, a minimum of meatheads, and suburbanites in the know. The result is a dark, trendy, laid-back haunt on a stretch of Lincoln Avenue that desperately needs it to help compensate for the lack of good bars and the now thankfully-defunct AA Meat Market.
The Tap Room is located almost kitty-corner from the famed, 24-hour Golden Apple, just north of Lincoln and Wellington. It’s easy to spot with its red ATM awning, which juts out from a recently painted, bright red facade with diamond shapes. Some may remember the strange and thought-provoking, giant black mural with swirling stars, a woman’s figure, a telephone, a giant child’s head, and a martini glass. The Lincoln Tap Room sign itself reminds you that you are in Chicago, USA, just in case you forgot. Walk through the glass door, mind the wrought iron gate that keeps the Tap safe at night, and have your ID ready for the bouncer. Either head straight to the video poker machine down the corridor behind the curving black banquette and loungey naugahide chairs, or head to the bar (my suggestion: the bar).
The bar itself is long, so there are plenty of red vinyl, high-backed barstools on which to park it. The bar is notable for its bluish-gray, backlit, Celtic-like painted base that goes well with the black linoleum floor. Red “TAPROOM” letters hang above the TV, next to the rack holding numerous plastic pitchers, and black drapes lead downstairs where kegs and beer cans are kept, waiting for the Hamm’s orders to roll in. “Seize the Night,” written on a sign to the left of the ancient metal cash register, rounds out the endless bar adornments.
Don’t let the large, red tasseled lights hanging above the bar district you from the giant chalkboard illustrating the plethora of wine and beer specials that includes Hamm’s cans for $1 and Goldschlager shots for $1, everyday. On one occasion, one of my more unusual friends ordered a Hamm’s and was given an authentic Hamm’s tray so that he could walk back to his table without spilling a drop of his precious nectar. Cans of Schlitz are also available for $1.75, just like at the Long Room and Green Mill. The Hamm’s and Schlitz goes down well while gazing at the giant, Hamm’s bear against the southern wall (above the Golden Tee). While the Tap no longer hosts live bands, who used to come in after a session at the recording studio across the street, the jukebox today offers one of the best and most eclectic selections in the city. If it isn’t already, make sure you have one of the bartenders manually turn it on BEFORE you put money into it, as stated by a helpful little sign.
“From the Land of Sky Blue Waters (Waters),
From the land of pines, lofty balsam,
Comes the beer refreshing,
Hamm’s the Beer Refreshing.”
– jingle from the Hamm’s beer commercials
An artist’s interpretation of the one-time Lincoln Tap Room mural
An occasionally rotating selection of artwork is proudly displayed on the north wall, above red upholstered seating for the weary, all of which is illuminated by hanging lights of red paper. Green and red retro lamps rest on end tables opposite the red upholstered bank. Want more red? There are two, professional-sized, red-felted pool tables with plenty of space to shoot some stick around them – one of which lies beyond satin drapes leading to the back room with its black leather couches. The daily special chalkboard announces, “Free Poo!” on Wednesdays, which really should read, “Free Pool,” unless there is something very, very wrong. The whole place is rather large, with a high ceiling propped up by a couple of posts (it’s always fun to run around the room drunk until you smack into one). Additional seating can be found in the back at two marble-slabbed cocktail tables, a couple of black leather armchairs and a sofa.
On a recent visit, I discovered a pleasant libation with seemingly unpleasant ingredients, known as the “Salty Dog.” This concoction is made with gin or vodka, grapefruit, and salt around the edges. Those with less refined tastes may think it “tastes like celery.” More for me, I say. This drink was much better than the bright red (what other color?) Cosmopolitan that tasted like cough syrup. I especially enjoyed my Salty Dogs while overhearing such lively conversational snippets as, “Stick a lamp up my ass! Turn it on! Dirty Sanchezes all around!” What more could you want in an evening?
“Downstairs from the fictitious pool hall in The Color of Money (Cruise/Newman), the Lincoln Tap Room keeps it real with Hamms in cans, 24 beer taps, free pool on Wednesdays, and an old-school photo booth. A laid-back, dark and funky vibe attracts a crowd clad in bowling shirts, into indie rock and secretly longing for fez. No cover or line.”
– yours truly as featured in Time Out Chicago’s TOC 100
When you leave this surreal gothic cocktail lounge, have a gander at the stuffed swordfish and the model clipper ship ala John Barleycorn’s mounted above the door as you step back into reality, maybe on your way to the land of sky blue waters. Reality, that is, unless you’re heading over to the Dianetics store across the street. Overall, the Lincoln Tap Room is one of the best lounges in Chicago, offering an “evolution of the true bar experience.” For further information on the Tap, including a virtual tour, check out the Lincoln Tap Room’s website. Just remember: Hamm’s, the beer refreshing.
“Laid back lounging in Lincoln Park”
The old look
The new look
The Interim Look