The Schlitz Brewery first erected the building now housing Schuba’s Tavern in 1900. In those days, Schlitz made Budweiser look like Hamm’s in terms of popularity. Schlitz was king and, to further maximize market share, the company decided to vertically integrate. To do this, Schlitz built 57 bars in the city of Chicago, and many others throughout the region. These bars were located all over the city, but were later sold off due to legislation passed forbidding breweries from owning bars. Today, only 10 of the original Schlitz buildings remain.
Schubas Tavern is one of these Schlitz masterpieces and is in superb condition thanks to the 1988 renovation by the current owners. Oddly enough, another lies only two blocks north by the name of Southport Lanes & Billiards, and two more can be found further south: Floyd’s Pub (Bucktown), and Mac’s American Pub (Ukrainian Village). Chris and Mike Schuba opened the bar in 1989, replacing a bar called “Gaspars” that operated as the Bavarian Inn before that. Chris used to own the defunct Everleigh Club (now the Tonic Room), which was named after the nation’s most well-known bordello that was located in Chicago in the early 1900s. Schubas is decorated with two-toned, herringbone-patterned brickwork, and is topped off with two terra cotta bass relief “Schlitz” globes (as also found on Schlitz bottles). It is believed that the Schlitz logo was derived from an exhibition piece created by Richard Bock for the World’s Colombian Exhibition held in Chicago in the 1893. Have no fear – even though Schlitz sold all of their bar holdings, Schubas still sells it in bottles.
Schubas is a classic neighborhood corner bar. The green-painted front room contains a 30-foot Brunswick mahogany bar, ceiling fans, walnut wainscoting (of course), a tin ceiling, two televisions, a mounted elk head, a jukebox, and even a photo booth. The alcohol selection consists of over 70 different types of hard alcohol, including a selection of bourbons, and several beers on draft and in bottles. They even have a Jägermeister tap at the end of the bar. In a word: disturbing. The food is standard pub grub and is fairly decent. Schubas owners also own the Harmony Grill next door, opened in 1997. Decorated with folk art and stained glass windows, the food is good but somewhat overpriced. Sidewalk seating is available in the Summertime.
Just beyond the front bar, through a narrow hallway covered with concert bills, is the back room where one can listen to live rock (standing up) and folk bands (sitting on the floor). The cover charge ranges from $4 to $15, crowds of 50 to 150 are typical and the room has pretty good acoustics. In addition, there’s a bar in the back for when you get thirsty. You may need to purchase tickets in advance beforehand for more popular folk and country acts like Robbie Fulks and John Wesley Harding. Rock acts consist primarily of up-and-coming bands in the area in the tradition of Gaspar’s. The back room sometimes doubles as a place to see major sports events on a large projection screen. Private parties are held upstairs in what was at one time the renovated saloon-keeper’s former residence. One annoying aspect of Schubas: the bar is occasionally closed to the public for performances that have private parties beforehand.
Another warning: no matter how tempting, please refrain from bringing any food into the bar. I was kicked out one night for committing the insidious evil of eating a burrito obtained from La Pacifica across the street based on the unwise suggestion of a friend who saw that I was hungry but there was nowhere to sit. Ah, well…
So, there you have it: classic architectural environs, great music and good food if you can snag a seat. For more information on Schubas or upcoming performances, check out the Schubas website. Now get out!