Editor’s Note: Rich’s First One Today has closed and has been replaced by “The Corner.”
Perhaps the most amusing name of any bar in Chicago, behind Yak-zies and the Underground Wonder Bar, Rich’s First One Today stands out as one of the best neighborhood taverns in the city. With its dirt cheap beer, Golden Tee, video poker, and frozen pizzas, you can’t go wrong at Rich’s.
Rich’s First One Today is located in Bucktown at the corner of Leavitt and Palmer, just a few blocks from Fullerton and the Kennedy Expressway. Rather than being dark and brooding like many other neighborhood joints, Rich’s is brightly lit through its sunny front windows. Walk in through the rickety wooden screen door and pull up a black, vinyl-backed stool next to neighborhood regulars at the ancient wooden bar complimented by faux wood paneling lining the walls. The bar offers two beers on tap. Old Style is available on draft for $1 and in a pitcher for $5.50, while Moosehead is served in a pitcher for a staggeringly low $6. Entertainment is available by observing some of Rich’s interesting decorations, which includes an inflatable Old Style Billy Goat sign, flag of Poland, stuffed boar’s head, old photos of Cub players above the john, a John Wayne painting and clock, a rotating Weinard’s Red sign, a three-foot model windmill, an iron water pump, and the only Tsingtao beer sign I have seen in the city. One sign offers such advice as, “It has been said that in gentleness, courage dwells,” while another (Schlitz) sign states, “You’re a stranger here but once…” Although I’ve been here a few times, I know they still don’t know my name (which is probably a good thing). If that’s not enough for you, further amusement can be had on one of three slot machines, two televisions, and a Golden Tee 1999 machine that offers games for free (that’s right – free). Where else can you find that?!? The unisex bathroom is also interesting with thick, cracked, old fashioned porcelain urinals reaching to the floor next to a rust-stained pot.
Hungry? Rich’s sells potato chips, Slim Jims and beef jerky. If you coax the gray-haired bartender enough, he’ll even heat up a frozen Leonardi’s pizza for you (for $4.95), which he’ll retrieve from the cooler hidden behind yellowing curtains. If you’re still hungry, I recommend walking west over to Western, and then south a few blocks to Lazo’s Tacos (open 24 hours). The waitresses tend not to speak English in this authentic Mexican restaurant, as live music blares away by a female vocalist and male keyboard player. The food is phenomenally good and ridiculously cheap as quesadillas cost $1.95 for a full plate, tortas and tacos cost $1.95 each, and burritos $2.95 (including rice and beans). You can also have a pitcher of Old Style to wash it down for almost as cheaply as you would find at Rich’s.
The crowd at Rich’s First One Today can only be described as relaxed, as the last time I was in there on a Saturday, the golf on the sepia-hued TV was the loudest noise in the place. The crowd is a mix of old regulars perched at the front end of the bar, while younger newcomers play the free Golden Tee machine in the back. The bartenders’ average age hovers around 65. All of the above made Rich’s the ideal locale for our annual 2002 mid-year Softball Summit. Not much about softball was actually talked about, but it was a good excuse to get the guys together, play Golden Tee and have a snowball fight afterwards. The latter of which degenerated into a “hit the car with the alarm” competition and was ultimately concluded when the Rich’s Old Style sign was hit, prompting the bartender to peel his ass off his perch and yell at us, making us all feel like we were five years old again.
Rich’s cracked linoleum floor paradise is my favorite Bucktown neighborhood bar, just edging out Charleston, nearby Burke’s Web Pub, and the Map Room. For me the cab ride costs as much as I pay for several hours of drinking and playing Golden Tee. I recommend that you make Rich’s your first one today, and have an Old Style for me.