On a stretch of Irving Park that features old-school Anglo & Latin dives such as Peek Inn, Marinero Bar & Grill and Fuller’s Pub, Albany Park & Old Irving Park residents now have a bit of the Old West as a nightlife option with all the bourbon and barbeque they can handle… The joint is called Pitchfork Saloon and is not to be confused with the annual independent music festival of the same name.
Pitchfork is located, one block west of California at the northeast corner of Richmond Avenue and Irving Park Road. Step through the plate glass door and you’ll find a spacious bar area on your right and a large dining area to your left. Pitchfork’s rustic décor consists of hardwood floors, exterior walls of exposed brick and plasma TVs, and interior walls painted a burgundy red upon which hang folksy paintings, such as a rooster painted on what looks like a large wooden trap door. Seating on both sides is primarily at wooden cocktail tables with high-backed chairs, though a few oversized booths are found just inside the door. Four intriguing brass chandeliers with exposed orange light bulbs hang over the wooden bar that runs the length of the eastern wall, behind which you’ll find an impressive selection of whiskey displayed on humble wooden shelves. Pitchfork features 35 whiskeys, bourbons and ryes. The more notable varieties are illustrated on a chalkboard just beyond the bar, along with a description of their taste and pricing. If you’re not into whiskey per se, Pitchfork also has a handful of beers on tap and offers their own Bourbonade (yep, bourbon and lemonade), Pitchfork Punch and sangria—a nod to this increasingly yuppified but still predominantly Mexican neighborhood. When these libations have taken their toll, make your way to the surprisingly spacious and well-appointed restrooms halfway down the northern wall.
Being more a fan of barbeque than whiskey, I sampled the ribs and they were quite good, especially with an extra squeeze bottle of sauce at your table. If you’re thinking of ribs but are considering the pulled pork or brisket, you can get the BBQ Teaser Sampler that combines all three as an appetizer. With an entrée, you can pick from a series of sides: the mac & cheese is the best, but the tiny portion leaves you wanting more. The “spicy and meaty” Championship Chili and chili mac are also recommended. Lighter fare includes salads in chopped chicken, southwest, grilled skirt steak and asparagus, and blackened chicken varieties. The predominantly BBQ menu was created by Dan Cortis, formerly of the now-defunct Cortis Brothers Supper Club and whose ribs were rated #1 at North Center’s annual Ribfest street festival in 2009. Though they’ve taken it on the chin via Yelp reviews just after they opened, I think Pitchfork is working through their inevitable opening-month hiccups and is already well on its way to becoming the best food option on Irving between Chicago Joe’s (east of Western) and Las Tablas (west of the Kennedy). They already have the best and friendliest waitstaff around.
Additionally at Pitchfork, you’ll encounter trivia night on Wednesdays, “Country Night” on Thursdays (even the waitresses wear cowgirl outfits), NFL Sunday Ticket, and there’s a sidewalk café in warmer weather.
Prior to opening as Pitchfork, the space housed a Latin restaurant called Mitad del Mundo, described in this way by Centerstage Chicago: “Jimmy Espinoza might be the most entertaining restaurant owner in town. The Ecuador native often prances around the dining room with a microphone in hand, keeping the beat to salsa rhythms or greeting his compañeros in both Spanish and English as they find their way to the bar. By 9 p.m. on weekend nights, a live band sets up shop in a separate room and brings the crowd of Latino regulars to their feet with salsa, merengue and even bumpin’ reggaeton music.”
Pitchfork Saloon opened in Fall 2009 and comes to you from the same people behind Waterhouse in West Lakeview, Rebel Bar & Grill in Wrigleyville and the late-night Bluelight in Roscoe Village. For more information, check out the Pitchfork Saloon website. Want some rye? ‘Course you do.