REO Chuckwagon in the beer
garden Photo courtesy of Jon Hopfensperger As of today, it’s time for the rest of the world to learn what any respectable barfly in Albany Park already knows: the Montrose Saloon is one of the best neighborhood bars in the city. It’s refreshing to know that, if you scratch around town these days, you can still find places like the Montrose. This is in contrast to the authentic “Oirish” pub craze and other attempts by an increasing number of bar chains to create themed bars that have as much character as a ride at Disneyland. Though rough around the edges, the Montrose Saloon stands out for its warmth, cheap beer and bluegrass music.
The Montrose saloon is located at the base of an old two-story building at Richmond and Montrose, in the northwest Chicago enclave of Albany Park. If you’ve ever been told about “a bar on Montrose,” it’s probably this one. Street parking is relatively easy around here but don’t drink and drive. A battered green door with “Montrose Saloon” painted on it is the only indication that you’ve found the place. Inside, you’ll find a floor covered with broken beige linoleum, an ornate, gold-painted ceiling with green trim above and a worn wooden bar with high-backed, black vinyl barstools that runs along the west end of the bar. Here at the bar, you’ll find a small, yet intriguing selection of taps: Guinness, Bass, Kaiser Pilsner, and Old Style (complete with Cubs baseball and bat tap handle). The Montrose Saloon doesn’t serve food but does sell a variety of pretzels, nuts and chips on the cheap. I once bought a round of two Old Styles and two packages of pistachios for $6.50. Come to daddy.
Across from the bar lies three cocktail tables, each with its own small TV mounted upon the eastern wall under a neon Old Style sign, a photo collage celebrating the bar’s recent three-year anniversary, and windows made from the bottoms of multi-colored bottles. You’ll also find the Montrose’s “Trading Post” box on one of the tables where patrons are encouraged to take a CD, tape, album, or book as long as you leave one. After you’re done rifling through the Trading Post, you can entertain yourself at the Golden Tee 99 machine, have a go on the cork dartboard hanging from the old exposed brick and wood-paneled western wall and just in front of the front windows overlooking Montrose, watch the Cubs on a smattering of additional televisions around the room (six in total, to be exact), or listen to music from the jukebox blaring across the horn loudspeaker mounted upon the wall. A back room offers more tables, a couple of TVs and another Golden Tee machine. In warmer climes, be sure to also check out the beer garden adjacent to the bar’s eastern wall. There you’ll find five picnic tables and a wooden fence to muffle the noisy sound of traffic on Montrose. The cement for this patio was actually provided and poured for free by Montrose Saloon patrons after the owner Barbara’s husband died. It’s good to see that there’s still some compassion in the world… Two horseshoe pits can be found just off the beer garden. If you want to play, you might need to politely cajole the regulars to let you in.
REO Chuckwagon in the beer garden
Photo courtesy of Rob Bernhard The crowd at the Montrose Saloon consists primarily of neighborhood types ranging in age from their late twenties into their sixties. In addition, areabluegrass fans descend upon the bar for the Scott & Billy Bluegrass Jam, held the second Wednesday of each month, as well as other local bands like Whistle Pig that occasionally play. The Montrose Saloon even recently held a benefit whose proceeds went to sponsor local independent radio stationWLUW and their Live & Kickin’ Bluegrass show that airs the first Saturday of the month from 10am to noon. The Montrose Saloon has also supported philanthropy by hosting benefits for the Diabetes Association. Other music fans will appreciate the Montrose for its open mic night, held every non-bluegrass Wednesday night, and karaoke which is featured on the first Friday of the month. The Montrose is also the occasional stomping grounds for the mysterious group of drinkers with a running problem known as the Chicago Hash House Harriers. Overall, the regulars at the Montrose Saloon can be a bit crusty towards newcomers but the place still retains a very friendly, laid-back vibe that I personally found to be very conducive for drinking Old Style on a Sunday afternoon.
Considering that the neighborhood bar is a dying breed, you might want to head over to the Montrose Saloon for an Old Style soon – you never know how long places like this are going to be around. Just consider the fate of Marge’s Pub and the Harp & Shamrock, both of which shuttered their doors this year. If you like the Montrose, be sure to also check out the Schubert Inn, Sterch’s, Lawry’s, and Rose’s (on Lincoln). For more information on this Albany Park gem, check out the Montrose Saloon MySpace page. Please also note that the address for the bar is 2933 W. Montrose, not 3717 W., and if you see me all liquored up and belting out Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald there – be gentle.
More Montrose Bluegrass Photos – taken by Brenna McLaughlin and originally featured in The Tap Chicago, now defunct.