As one of the oldest and most charismatic pubs in the Loop, Monk’s ranks up there with Chicago legends 17 West at the Berghoff and Miller’s Pub. Both mid-day and after-work crowds come for the Belgian theme, a menu laden with burgers and chili, and one of the largest selection of ales downtown that is helping to bring back drinking at lunchtime (and before).
Monk’s Pub dates back to 1969 when it was a subterranean hole-in-the-wall on Lower Wacker Drive. The pub moved to its current spot in 1971 (replacing a Brown’s Chicken) after the original was demolished. The current owner, Mike Shaker, took over in May 1978 and remodeled the pub to reflect the monastery where he resided one summer as a boy. Located at the southeast corner of Lake & Wells, the exterior of Monk’s Pub looks like a European inn with its kerosene lanterns and hanging wooden sign, handmade in Barcelona.
Thick wooden doors with brass handles separate the hectic downtown hullabaloo and rumble of the Loop “L” trains overhead from a warm interior adorned with exposed brick walls, wooden barrels, lanterns, and numerous antique chandeliers. The antique Tiffany-like Schlitz lanterns hanging over the long wooden bar along the eastern wall were given to the pub by a distributor in recognition of the original macrobrew’s being the first beer featured on tap at Monk’s back in the 1970s (which is still on tap today after a brief hiatus). The lunchtime crowd takes in plenty of CNBC while the after-work contingent gets their fill of the [ahem] finest that Chicago sports has to offer, with SportsCenter a viable alternative.
A handful of coveted booths lie opposite the bar, with several low-slung wooden tables in-between. To the left of the main entrance is “The Library” though all books here are of the prop variety and glued shut, except for one rumored to be stuffed with singles for the one who finds it. On the other side of the entrance, past a digital Wurlitzer jukebox, is the “Wine Room” that offers a private-party space for 20-30 people. Beyond the bar and in the rear is another space used for 30-50 of your closest friends.
Included in a recent renovation is one of the Loop’s most extensive beer menus, second only to nearby Prime Bar. A rotating selection of Belgian beers reinforces the bar’s theme, and many American craft brews are also featured—12 on tap and 60 in bottles in total.
A large, open kitchen that runs along the western wall under a shingled eave pumps out lunch and dinner until 10-11pm on weekdays (later if busy). The menu features a dozen burgers—including Hickory, Smoke-House, Cajun, Mediterranean, Californian, and Hawaiian in addition to the usual suspects—complimenting “the best chili in the Loop.” A handful of apps, sandwiches and salads rounds out the nosh. Monk’s is most popular at lunch and after work when ties are discarded as quickly as the first peanut shells hit the wooden floor, both of which are strongly encouraged.
As you would guess, the pub draws office workers, traders straying north of Stocks & Blondes and Cactus Bar & Grill (motto: “Don’t drink and trade”), tradesmen, visiting Belgians, Jerry Taft on occasion, the owner when he’s not scuba diving, and lawyers that have argued more cases in Monk’s than at nearby Cook County courthouse. Several office workers even wait for the bar to open weekdays at 9am for their morning cocktail… An attentive staff keeps every happy and well-lubricated.
“This place was originally a tiny dark bar on the south side of Lower Wacker just immediately west of Clark St. They moved somewhere around 1971 because of building demolition at that corner. The original place was a great, dark subterranean hang. Owned by a guy named Joe, with a cook named Paul who would get drunk and ticked off and could be seen slamming brats onto the grill from across the room while swearing loudly. The ‘new’ Monk’s was just a huge box of a room, very little character, but one of the few ‘ordinary’ bars downtown back then. There was a porno bookstore next door to the east and there was a common door between Monk’s and the bookstore. You could have a few drinks and head into the bookstore, a real sleaze pit. A lot of off-duty cops and FBI agents hung out in Monk’s. There was a story about some lowlife approaching the bar late one night, all the cops got ‘itchy…’ and sure enough the lowlife pulled a a gun to rob the bartender. Apparently the guy was shot multiple times… don’t know if this was ‘urban legend’ or not. I quit working downtown in the late 70s and haven’t been in Monk’s since then.”– Tony E. (October 14, 2003)
Whether visiting, needing to get out of the office, or to blow off some steam following a hard day’s work, Monk’s Pub is the spot. Once a dark, dank pub feturing lingerie shows at lunchtime, Monk’s now keeps it on the up-and-up unless you drink to much Belgian beer and wind up face-down on peanut shells. If you like Monk’s, be sure to check out Friar Tuck in Lakeview, Moody’s Pub in Edgewater, and Hopleaf in Andersonville. For more information, check out the Monk’s Pub website. Op uw gezondheid—or “à votre santé,” if you prefer.
“I was reminiscing about the six years I lived in Chicago, when I used to go to this once-wonderful pub BEFORE they renovated it – can you guess where I am going with this? As it happens, I have seen this before, so it shouldn’t be such a surprise to me at the advanced age of 35 to see successful establishments simply ruin utterly what is the most charming aspect of their business for the sake of ‘modernization’ and ‘renovation.’ At one time, this was a slice of Chicago of the 50’s or 60’s, completely untouched by the present as blocks and blocks around it were torn down and replaced with sterile office towers. It was really my favorite lunch spot, kind of a hole-in-the-wall, even darker inside than the outside suggests, with dark wood everywhere, intimate tables lit by banker-type lamps, and it was smaller, tables lined up along an L-shaped corridor, with an entrance on Lake and a separate entrance on the street under the El. It was a construction worker’s kind of place, beer and burgers, a real refuge from the corporate hustle bustle of the Loop. I live in New York now, and on a March weekday several years ago, I popped in for lunch, and was totally disgusted with what they did! I will NEVER go back – it is no longer Monk’s Pub to me. It’s now no different than Bennigan’s. Sorry I can’t agree with your assessment, but I just know you would have liked it the old way better had you seen it. Thanks!”– cjpmak
“At another corner of the downtown social spectrum is a de facto fraternity haven. Monk’s Pub, which looks more like a barn, is where you get ripped in as little time as possible with the biggest herd of coworkers you can round up at the blow of the whistle. In addition to the stock-exchange boys in loosened cheap neckties and khakis, there are service-industry folks from downtown restaurants looking to blow off steam. Peanut shells coat the floor. The coasters on the bar read ‘Check Your Saddlebags at the Door’ and ‘Respect Yourself in the Morning.’ Nine Inch Nails play. Two guys play-fight with each other. One catches my friend’s eye and winks. We agree it’s not a nice wink, but the kind of wink that precedes a ruffie drop. Time to go.”– excerpt from “Love Chicago Style” by Elaine Richardson, Newcity Chicago (February 14, 2002)
“I worked downtown back in the late 70’s! I went to a lot of great restaurants for lunch and Monks was one of them. I loved their Monk burger.”– Linda (August 10, 2005)