After about a decade in business, Mickey’s has become a Lincoln Park institution and major hot spot for when the weather gets warm. Mickey’s not only has one of the best beer gardens in the city, topping that of even Sheffield’s, Justin’s and Zella’s, but it’s also a great spot to satisfy that occasional karaoke urge. Once known as “Mickey’s Snack Bar,” today’s Mickey’s continues to offer an intriguing selection of pub grub and high-degree of local talent, making it one of the most popular bars in all of Lincoln Park.

Mickey’s, not to be confused with Mickey’s Grill & Pub (located north of Diversey on Broadway), is located at the northwest corner of Arlington and Clark Street, next to Galway Arms (formerly Rudy Fazuli’s) and just down the street from the Arlington House International Hostel, in the Park West section of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Here, Mickey’s is housed in the base of a three-story building with thick, load-bearing and roughly-hewn stone walls. The entrance to both the bar proper and the beer garden can be found around the north side of the structure, where a couple of stone steps lead through a red-painted archway. Have your ID out and ready, as they card everyone, and tell the host where you’d like to sit and they’ll take care of it. Caution: if you’re visiting when the weather begins to turn warm, get there EARLY as the joint is as sure to be packed as Daley is to win the next election, and either you won’t be able to move or you’ll have to wait up to a few hours for a table.

The beer garden is the story at Mickey’s. Mickey’s can be heard about a half-mile away in the summer months, from the din emanating from its large outdoor patio. It is here that patrons from all over the city flock to, to assuage their thirst and hunger (both literal and metaphorical), when the weather improves. The beer garden, elevated a few feet from street level and surround by a brick wall, features a couple of leafy elm trees growing through the cement and through the year-round blue canopy that has replaced the blue posts with yellow bulbs and “Snacks” written on them. All good thing must come to an end, including your al fresco inebration, so be forewarned: Mickey’s staff begins to herd everyone into the bar a short time before 11:00pm, when the beer garden has to be closed by law (don’t worry, you can bring your drinks in with you).

Just inside the patio and main door is the main barroom with its long, metal-topped and ceramic-tiled bar . Behind it is a wall lined with what looks like the same silver insulation found on the sides of a caterer’s truck. When Mother Nature calls, just head toward the rear where a hallway leads back to the kitchen and the restrooms, of which the men’s features black ceramic-tiled walls and a fine metal piss trough. If the main bar is too crowded or you’re eating inside (the only option in winter), a few steps lead up to the second room through another large archway. This dark blue and gray painted room offers waitress service at a smattering of booths and low-rider tables, and karaoke is featured at the west end on Thursdays and Fridays – some of the finest karaoke no cover charge can buy. One night, I saw three girls sing “Baby Got Back” with accompanying dance moves that would make Too Live Crew blush, led by a former captain of the Luv-a-Bulls who knew every word (strange…). The DJ also got up and sang The Humpty Dance, which I found odd considering that this musical oddity is 15 years old and also because I had just heard the song played earlier in the day at Murphy’s Bleachers. I was also shocked to hear a surprisingly good rendition of “Only the Good Die Young” performed by a close friend of mine who, whenever he was heard singing previously, could make your hair curl more than a Nelson Reilly orgy.

Mickey’s also features a fairly standard selection of pub grub, though with such intriguing selections as the mini turkey corndogs, steak skewer salad, Cuban BLT, Mickey’s Sliders, The Mick (a pound burger they charge $14 for), raspberry creme brulee cheesecake, and brunch served from 9am to noon on weekends. Wash it all down with the usual suspects or one of eight mojito cocktails. Sadly, the namesake Mickey’s Big Mouths are no longer served…

In 2005, ownership changed, the place was renovated by the Chicago tavern renovation gurus, Ray Wray Design, and Mickey’s was the result of a transformation from Mickey’s Snack Bar, which was a rock & roll-themed bar. Presumably, this was because the new owners realized they could easily drop the music schtick and attract just as many people, if not more now that they have the year-round beer garden. Prior to that, the joint operated as Jerome’s. In addition to the notable outdoor patio, which was dominated by a white-painted gazebo at the time, Jerome’s made its reputation on its healthy yet innovative American cuisine and comfort food that wasn’t cheap but wasn’t expensive either. According to Hanging Out on Halsted… and Chicago’s North Side (1993), “Jerome’s is an advocate of fresh, healthful food. They even bake their own pastries and whole grain breads. The menu offers entrées of baked chicken, broiled fish, pastas, and lots of vegetables, all prepared in an appealing way.” Sounds much like the fare you’ll find at Galway Arms today, located next door. Jerome’s also featured a fine “Bit of Everything” Sunday brunch for $10-$15.

Mickey’s, in its various incarnations, has rivaled that of John Barleycorn’s Memorial Pub, Goodbar, and Ravens as the most popular beer garden in Lincoln Park. The patio, with its great atmosphere and plenty of talent, is almost as good as Castaways, and intriguing menu. Combine with that the karaoke and you’ve got a great place to go with Mickey’s whether it’s winter or summer. My recommendation: head over Mickey’s after work and experience the tranquility of the twilight hours or pull up a stool n the afternoon on the weekends. If you stay at Mickey’s until closing time but aren’t yet ready to head home, head up the street instead to Frank’s for some late-night cocktails or over to the Wiener Circle for a hot dog and a side of insults. For more information, check out the Mickey’s Bar & Patio website. Elvis has now left the building…

“Mickey’s stellar sidewalk café features Mojitos, a menu highlighted by their own version of Sliders, and as much eye-candy as you can handle. The diner look inside has yielded to blue suede booths and flat panel televisions, always tuned to Cub games. Nostalgia for Wrigley Field is further induced upon every visit to the metal trough in the mensroom.”

– yours truly as featured in Time Out Chicago’s TOC 100