Lucky Strike

Editor’s Note: this space is very much the same but is now called Seven Ten Lounge, while Lucky Strike has moved to a new location at 322 E. Illinois St. in Streeterville

As the name implies, the Lucky Strike harkens back to the early 20th century, when alcohol consumption was only outdone by smoking unfiltered cigarettes like Lucky Strikes. Instead of a cigarette theme however, the bar is named after the spirit American bowling and billiards at its best. The Lucky Strike has eight polished bowling lanes and six beautiful pool tables. The pub sport is complimented with good food and a wide variety of beers (like its nearby cousin Southport Lanes), making the Lucky Strike popular with locals in the Lincoln Park and Lakeview since 1995.

Today the Lucky Strike beckons patrons with its black and white sign brightly lit in orange neon. The main bar is located just beyond the glass door entrance, sporting plush high-backed chairs and a Franz Leber-like Metropolis mural above where they keep the bowling shoes. To your right lies the bowling lanes – four open to the public and four reserved in the private room, in addition to a small pool table. The lanes themselves were purchased from a 50-year old bowling alley in Indiana. Even though they have a private party room, I have been to the Strike a dozen times and have never have been able to get a bowling alley within a few hours’ wait as there is either a private party using the public lanes (with the private room being empty), or there are just too many people waiting. If the planets are aligned properly and you are able to get a lane, the cost is $12 to $14 an hour and you can hang out at the small back bar in bowling area between frames. Got a sweet tooth or need to phone a friend? A black and red linoleum hallway with candy machines and pay phones separates the main bar area from the bowling alley.

If you don’t feel like bowling or can’t get a lane (more likely), head into the main seating area to the left of the bar, or head into the billiards room. The main seating area offers several tables and booths, and is a good area to watch the sidewalk traffic while sampling the bar fare. The menu consists of all your favorite pub grub with a few specialties like their onion bloom. The beer menu is more impressive, offering 40 different beers including $4 microbrews like Flying Dog Ales, Doggie Style IPA and Old Scratch Ale – “A dog is a walking flea anyway.” A word of warning: Lucky Strike charges $5 for a Guinness – highway robbery when you consider that everywhere else charges $4 or less.

The pool room offers six regulation-sized tables, rivaling nearby pool halls like PhilosoFur’s and the Lucky Strike’s cousin, the Corner Pocket. French cigarette and alcohol advertisements adorn the green-painted walls along and chrome barstools provide a respite between shots. While the pool tables are great, they only had two triangles in the room (one of which was broken) and they didn’t have any chalk or granny cues (bridges). Cost per hour is $9 to $12. The cheesy jukebox provides all the hits from the seventies and eighties that you don’t want to hear, and the televisions allow you to watch whichever Chicago sports team happens to be losing.

Even though the Lucky Strike’s sign often has burnt out neon bars, the place is very nice with its polished hardwood, glass and steel furnishings. The Strike, ironically, does not get too smoky and the entire bar is one of the cleanest in the city. The bathrooms are a white porcelain palace, and you’d be hard-pressed to find even toilet paper on the floor. It was at the urinals here that I discovered one night that I was wearing my boxers on backwards; I felt rather panicked when I couldn’t find the hole. You never feel truly vulnerable until you are in a public toilet and you have to take both your pants and underwear off. The Lucky Strike also keeps very cool in the summertime. This came in handy for me when in 1999, when the ComEd Addison power station melted down, leaving huge swaths of the North Side without electricity during the hottest week of the summer.

In the summertime, the Lucky Strike’s sidewalk cafe bears mentioning. It rivals that of Cullen’s, Cafe el Tapatio and Southport Lanes. Take a seat at a table within the wrought iron railings, topped with colorful bowling balls, and enjoy the leafy surroundings under old-fashioned streetlights.

Introduced by the same people that brought you the Daily, Hudson Club, Southport Lanes, and the Corner Pocket, the Lucky Strike was one of five bowling alleys nominated for the Citysearch: Chicago’s Audience Pick for Best Bowling Alley (2000). My recommendation: if you’re looking for bowling and are not part of a corporate event, head over to nearby Diversey-River Bowl, as it is far easier to get a lane, and is much cheaper to boot. On the other hand, the Lucky Strike offers a cool place to chill out, sample some of their excellent ales, play some pool, hang out in the sidewalk cafe, and kill the time during your three-hour wait for a lane. For more information on this and the newer Hyde Park location, check out the Lucky Strike website. Turkey!

Examples of Lucky Strike conversation:

“Ooh, that’s funky” (heard upon consumption of an Old Scratch)
“You know me; I have to knock it around the hole a bit before I get it in.”