Nestled into the heart of Sheffield Neighbors, also known as Lincoln Park West, McGee’s Tavern & Grill has become an immensely popular pub with DePaul students and everyone else on the North Side under the age of 30. With its polished wooden interior, wide variety of brewskies, good selection of pub grub, more televisions than you can shake a stick at, and GAP-clad regulars, McGee’s has something for anyone looking to get off the couch. While the bar promotes itself as an Irish or English-style pub, it’s really more of a classic Chicago tavern the likes of Glascott’s Groggery, Kincade’s, River Shannon, and John Barleycorn’s Memorial Pub, all of which have that old-fashioned look and nuevo-neighborhood bar feel.
McGee’s can be found on the north side of Webster Avenue, just east of Sheffield. As with Kelly’s Pub across the street the bar is situated almost under the Red, Brown and Purple line El tracks. This can make conversations a challenge in the leafy sidewalk café filled with polished wooden picnic tables under green patio umbrellas, which makes an appearance when the temperature rises. “McGee” is boldly proclaimed in gold lettering upon a wooden sign, above the façade now featuring floor-to-ceiling windows that open out into summer and a half dozen neon shamrock “McGee” signs. Because of the youngins in the area, you’ll be sure to get carded as you walk through the door and be prepared for lines during primetime like those found at Belly’s, Barleycorn Wrigleyville and Casey Moran’s.
Step through the door and you’ll find a nicely tile, wood paneled room with a long, well-varnished bar running along the north end of the room, offering an impressive selection of booze behind its cabinets of wood and glass. An ornate brass fixture offers 30 beers on tap. A throng of patrons sit upon backless barstools at the bar and carefully eye the cute bartendresses when they’re not looking. More seating can be found at one of several wooden cocktail tables across scattered throughout the newly expanded room. If you’re lucky, snag one of the wooden booths along the eastern wall. Following the acquisition of the shop next door, an impressive renovation and re-opening, the ever popular McGee’s is that much better. The massive congestion in the front room has largely been eliminated, because there is no longer a bottleneck at the bar caused by idiots standing in the aisle to talk with their friends at the bar along with waitresses pushing their way through and patrons piling in, particularly from one of the many Bar 1-organized pub crawls. There’s much more elbow room now even though the front room still can get quite crowded.
The exposed brick room in back is filled with cocktail tables and offers additional seating under a slanted wood, lodge-like ceiling. It was here that I was once visited with a good friend of mine who always runs into someone whenever he goes out in the city. On this particular occasion, he actually ran into girl that still had a suitcase of his that he left with her over three years ago. Bizarre. When the two big screens are rolled up at the north end of the room, small bands play upon a modular, worn, black plywood stage in front of a brick fireplace whose pieces are stacked in the corner when unused. I once saw a 3-man acoustical jam play there who gave a stirring, albeit male, rendition of “Galileo” by the Indigo Girls. In a moment of quiet melodrama, I wondered, “How long ’till my soul gets it right? Perhaps only the King of Night Vision knows…” This was immediately followed by a cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together.” My melancholy gave way to weak sense of poetics as I noted that the lyrics, “Come together, right now – over me” was like Galileo’s heavens. Sensing the odd mood I was in, my friend abandoned me so that he could talk to the boyfriend of the girl with the suitcase. Fortunately, the feeling passed as soon as I downed another beer. When Mother Nature calls, mind the busboys and waitresses endlessly coming and going from the kitchen as you head through the hallway to the right of the stage. On the east wall, three plate glass panes offer a portal through which you’ll find the beer garden, which is open all year round and is filled with low-slung, plastic tables and chairs (covered and heated in colder times, making it an ideal locale for McGee’s annual pumpkin carving contest). Through two folding wooden doors in the west wall of the back room is yet another back room, used primarily for private parties but also to accommodate the masses on the weekends. This room offers another bar at its south end and additional seating at cocktail tables to the north.
If you’re peckish, be sure to order something from, “the kind of menu where everything’s ‘famous,'” according to The Official Chicago Bar Guide (2001). Self-proclaimed as the, “Best Damn Bar Food in Town,” the selection at McGee’s starts off with such notables as McGee’s Famous Irish Nachos (waffle fries smothered with homemade chili and cheddar cheese and topped with jalapenos, chives, olives, diced tomatoes, guacamole, and sour cream), Mexican Cheese Sticks (deep fried corn tortillas, rolled and stuffed with jalapeno jack cheese), and buffalo wings of which the spicy wings are second only to bw-3 and better than the much-ballyhooed wings at Hog Head McDunna’s. The main course at McGee’s consists primarily of burgers and sandwiches, as well as an eclectic selection of turkey and tuna croissants, chicken salad served in a pita, the Tilapia Reuben (grilled tilapia on rye with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing), Italian beef, and pepper & egg sandwiches – all of which is served in wicker baskets. Homemade French onion soup is also available along with the usual variety of salads. Even though the food is not expensive, running about $6 to $8 per item, I once offered to leave a shoe for the waitress in order to start a tab after I informed her that a friend and I had accidentally run out on the bill at Kelly’s (we both realized this just as we were walking into McGee’s and fortunately had enough time to run back and pay without having the cops called on us).
In addition to its “famous” fare, McGee’s prides itself on its popular events. Mondays feature a seemingly odd combination of euchre tournaments and an all-you-can-eat chili bar for $6. Middle of the week specials include pitchers for $7 and wings 10¢ each on Tuesdays, and burgers are a buck on Wednesdays. Like the Lakeview Links, McGee’s has the distinction of being one of the few bars in the city to be cheeky enough to charge a $4 cover after 7:00 p.m. on Thursday nights. However, you can find consolation in that all Budweiser and Michelob bottles are $1. Fridays feature 10-ounce martinis for $5 and “madness at midnight,” which consists of the distribution of free pizza. A brunch menu that includes omelets, pancakes, steak & eggs, French toast, and a variety of skillets, is available on weekends from 11 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., along with a make your own Bloody Mary bar for $5 and an all-you-can-drink coffee “bar” for $2.50.
A note on McGee’s versus Kelly’s Pub: while Kelly’s Pub would initially appear to have lower-priced food and beer, given its dive bar look and feel, the sandwiches are actually cheaper and the beer specials better at McGee’s, not to mention that McGee’s offers a wider selection. For example, on Wednesdays, Kelly’s features MGD for $2 while McGee’s has everything for $2.50. If Kelly’s wants to continue attracting DePaul students, or anyone for that matter, they might want to revise their pricing if they want to stay around for another 70 years.
While the food is good at McGee’s, most come for big games shown on no less than 32 televisions and three big screens. This makes McGee’s ideal for watching March Madness, the NFL on Sundays, playoff games for any sport, and the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturdays in Fall. In this way, McGee’s joins the lesser known Flounder’s as Cornhusker football and basketball headquarters (as if two bars supporting Nebraska were needed in this city). ” Over the last eight years only Memorial Stadium has held more Husker fans than we have… ‘Hail, Varsity!’ fills the bar before kick-off and after every time the Huskers score,” boasts McGee’s. The bar also has has Elk Creek (a Nebraska drink) and “Red” beer flowing freely during Nebraska games and they even pass out a variety of Cornhusker tchotchkes to the crowd.
The crowd at McGee’s mostly consists of behatted Lincoln Park and Lakeview denizens in their early 20’s. This demographic finds the food and beer specials hard to resist and are magnetically drawn to the pub crawls and annual events. McGee’s is also the stomping grounds for Chicago Sport and Social Club participants – those people having the time of their lives playing every sport you can think of for the low, low price of up to $1,000 per team to play one hour a week for eight weeks. The crowd can get pretty rowdy, but if you come early and grab a table or a seat at the bar, you’ll be apples. And guys, if you’re one of those whose head appears to be on a swivel when there’s a lot of talent around, don’t come to McGee’s with your girlfriend – particularly in July when McGee’s becomes an air-conditioned oasis during the Sheffield Garden Walk.
McGee’s also attracts the occasional celebrity, like former Chicago Bears quarterback, Bob Avellini, who was arrested in 2002 for “accidentally” smashing the glass door at McGee’s with a golf club after he was denied entry. Rumor has it that he was thrown out of the bar earlier and returned to threaten the bar staff. Since he had his trusty golf club in hand and it was after last call, they wouldn’t let him in. As Avellini “tapped” on the glass with the club to get the attention of those inside, the glass mysteriously broke. Hmmm, sounds like something Jim McMahon might do, not Avellini…
“What do you get when you put a Leprechaun and a football fanatic in a blender? You get McGee’s.”– Shecky’s Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002
McGee’s, not to be confused with Bobby McGee’s Bar & Grill on the South Side and McGee’s Bar & Grill in Rolling Meadows, actively works to draw a good crowd to the bar and does so with flying colors. Within comfortable surroundings, one is sure to enjoy a couple of beers, some food, the game, and the talent. For more information and to join the Bar 1 mailing list to get a rundown of their weekly events, check out the McGee’s website. Cheers.
McGee’s following their addition and remodeling – photo courtesy of Andrew M.