Once upon a time, say 1996, people would have called Richard’s Bar a “taproom”, an “old man’s bar” or a “dive” and they wouldn’t have been using the term as a compliment. But now dives have become as popular as iPhones, so Richard’s finds itself as a borderline trendy spot that has the weekend SRO crowds to prove it.
A first trip to Richard’s can lead to a case of déjà vu. Thanks to its fairly unique set up near the six-corner Milwaukee/Halsted/Grand intersection, you’ll find the entrance to Richard’s on Milwaukee and then again on Grand. Richard’s surrounds the popular River West Emmit’s Pub (which appears in three Chicago films you know), sits across the street from Funky Buddha and next to one of my favorite restaurants, La Scarola. The entrance on Grand is essentially a foyer leading into the main bar area, with a lone table against the wall providing the only semblance of privacy in the joint. The Milwaukee entrance features a simple white and red backlit sign and glass-block and wood storefront painted in the colors of the Italian flag.
Inside you’ll find a narrow rectangular main room with the service bar on the left and a smaller adjoining room to handle overflow traffic. Beneath a classic tin ceiling, the Italian-American theme continues inside, the walls adorned with pictures and posters of real and fictional mobsters. Photos of celebrities the like Rocky Marciano and Sinatra vie for room with an array of neon beer signs and in a back corner you’ll even find a faded pennant from storied local “institution” McGuire University. The average-sized bar sits along the north wall, highlighted by the antique sign above the bar back advertising both packaged and single-serve beer prices. An assortment of mismatched stools are scattered around for extra seating, leaving fairly limited standing room in between.
Though Chicago’s smoking ban has been in effect for a couple of years now, Richard’s selection, proudly displayed behind the bar, rivals that of any 7-11 and is actually no more (or less) expensive for those needing their nic fit. You’ll also find some other old-school touches like 75¢ hard boiled eggs (try ’em at your own risk), and business-like bartenders who were probably slinging suds during the Nixon administration. A couple of TVs sit here or there as an after-thought, but the real entertainment comes from the people-watching and the overly-loud jukebox. The jukebox is often lauded for its collection of rat pack classics, but during my visit I was assaulted by an intoxicated couple mashing to Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” and other assorted schlock—and to my dismay, only my friends and I seemed to mind.
Beer selection is decent and comes in bottles and cans only, which at a place like Richard’s is probably doing you a favor. Standard domestics run about $3 and imports $4, with a few cheaper down-market options consisting of basically any beer that was popular in the 1970s. Given my surroundings, I opted for the reformulated Schlitz, which tasted just as I remembered: like iron filings that had been left out in the sun for a week and then chilled. Mmmmm…rusty. Specials, or any drink requiring more than two ingredients, simply aren’t offered at Richard’s. This is no place to order a manhattan, but if you want a PBR at 8am, stop on by, or stay until last call, which happens at 2am, give or take.
Introduce a non-native species to a habit and the local species suffer. Such is the scene at Richard’s. As the younger crowd comes to Richard to drink cheap and “slum it”, the many characters who’ve long given the bar character are being pushed to the wayside. On weekends, expect a crowd spanning 5-6 decades, with a healthy dose of sub-30 partiers looking to let loose. You might think Richard’s would be the last place to hook up and you’d be wrong. On my visit, the beer was flowing and eyes were darting. Throw a little Lionel Ritchie on the juke and who knows what might happen.
For a reasonable bar tab, a boisterous atmosphere and a little old school personality, grab the gang and head over to Richard’s. If you like Richard’s, you might want to stagger into Blue Frog, Nisei Lounge or (after midnight) Marie’s Riptide. For more information on Richard’s, give them a ring as their website isn’t happening any time soon. Salute.