Though it does no advertising, has flown under the radar of the Chicago nightlife guides and, up until now has been completely ignored in cyberspace, Millie’s Tavern has not escaped the watchful eye of the Chicago Bar Project. What we found at Millie’s is a good, old-school neighborhood bar – no pretension, just cheap beer and a good place to down a couple. In truth, I lived within half a mile of the place for over five years and never knew it was there until a guy on my softball team suggested it after games. I’m glad he did.
Millie’s Tavern can be found tucked away, along the leafy side streets of Wellington & Honore, which is just west of the Wellington Metra track underpass and east of Hamlin Park. The saloon is housed within an orange brick, two-flat with a shingled awning and a hanging Old Style sign, required of course of any neighborhood bar worth its salt. A couple of neon beer signs almost completely take up the small windows facing Wellington. A modest white sign with black letters above one of the windows spells out “Millie’s.”
Step through the metal door painted brightly red and you’ll find a one-room bar with brown linoleum streaked with white, a white drop ceiling, and faux wood paneling below funky old-fashioned red wallpaper with black velvet patterns. A long wooden bar runs down the western wall, behind which hang two medium-sized mirrors adorned by red, white and blue Christmas lights. Next to that is an old poster that looks like it was cut out of a very large newspaper, depicting a fine young lass seated on a backless barstool wearing a tight top, heels and nothing else. A sign above her reads: “No shoes, No shirt, No service.” I’m sure she got serviced that night as a leering, bearded regular in the poster sits next to her. Unlike in the poster, the occasional female patron wears pants and sits upon one of the high-backed, burgundy pleather stools at the bar, most of which are ripped.
Elsewhere around the room, you’ll find a plethora of beer paraphernalia and advertising including an excellent Old Style Friendly Confines sign along the eastern wall that thievishly eyed ala the Jameson’s sign at Slow Down! Our temptation was successfully resisted this time… In addition, several inflatable beer bottles are placed throughout the room, including one set amongst trophies on a little shelf on the northern wall between the windows. There’s also an inflatable beer sign/retro gas pump right at the front door above a stool and tiny table, presumably used by the bouncer during busier times should there be any.
If you’re hungry, Millie’s does not have a kitchen but offers a laminated menu of dirt cheap pizza and beer, the former of which the bartender will be happy to make for you in the two toaster oven in the back, just beyond the small pool table and in-between the bathrooms up two laminated steps. The gents’ can, next to the payphone, features the finest beige-painted clapboard, multicolored tile and with a small window to vent. For entertainment, there are two televisions, one at both the north end and south end of the room, and there’s an internet jukebox up by the front door.
As you can imagine, Millie’s appeals to older regulars in the area along with a few younger condo dwellers that filter in occasionally, such as our party following softball games when I played for a team called “Soiled Rosin Bag,” though the league curiously misinterpreted the name as “Saul Rosenberg,” which is how we came to be known. The overall vibe is quite relaxed and friendly, though we were once politely asked to move from one set of low-rider tables next to the pool table to prevent fights, and we kindly obliged. On another occasion, two completely smashed 50-year-old women attempted to dance with my 27-year-old friend. It was a eye-opening display.
“Another undiscovered gem is the fabulous Millie’s on Wellington, two blocks east of Damen. They’re a tiny little place with flocked black and red wallpaper like something you’d see in Vegas and the worst men’s bathroom in the city—you can see your breath in there in the winter. It was an ice cream place during the depression. You should get there quick—as soon as the woman who owns it passes away, her kids are most likely going to sell it for the land.”– excerpt from “Dark Days and Blue Ribbon Nights at the L&L” by Karl Klockars (January 15, 2007)
Millie’s Tavern has successfully avoided any measure of popularity and remains almost completely unknown, even though the same family has owned it for over 30 years. In fact, the establishment that is Millie’s today has been a bar since the 1800’s and, prior to its current name, the place was Joe’s Tavern run by Joe Pimperl. According to a Chicago Bar Project reader:
Joe Pimperl of Joe’s Tavern
“My Dad grew up on Honore St. right across the street from the bar. My dad’s cousin Joe Pimperl owned the bar we called Joe’s Tavern when I was a kid 40 years ago. Joe lived on Honore Street right next to my Dad, in a one-story brick house next to the tracks. Joe worked the bar with Vi and Jack. The bar opened really early for 3rd shift people getting off work. I always enjoyed sitting at the bar with my dad when we visited Joe. I learned the game of pool from my Dad one Saturday afternoon, as my Dad had a beer on the house from his cousin Joe. I remember my Dad and I stopping by the tavern one Saturday to visit Joe when I was a little older and Joe’s face was yellow and he was getting thin. He told us he was selling the bar because of his health. He died from leukemia a short time after selling the bar. The new owner moved in to the home upstairs from the bar.”– K.W. (May 9, 2008)
To my mind, Millie’s is one of the last of a dying bread of Lakeview neighborhood joints, the likes of L&L Tavern, G&L Fire Escape, and nearby Johnnie’s Lounge – all of which could be gone tomorrow as property values continue to increase, such as what happened recently with the J&R Tap, Rich’s First One Today and the Schubert Inn. For more information on Millie’s Tavern, you’ll just have to go there in person as this is it on the web. When you leave, just remember to do so quietly and respect the neighbors.