While O’Donovan’s is a great neighborhood bar, it was very sad to see its predecessor go. Schulien’s, as it was known, was well loved by the old world Germans living in the area as well as for those elsewhere in Chicagoland that came for a fine German meal accompanied by the magic of “Heba Haba Al,” a legendary Chicago magician. While all good things must come to an end, O’Donovan’s has kept the tradition alive with the “mystifying magic act” of Al James, who has been seen on network television. However, those of us that once knew Schulien’s still miss it.
Schulien’s opened at its original location at 1800 N. Halsted Street in 1886. Back then, Schulien’s served Lincoln Park locals as an old-world German tavern. During the bleak time of Prohibition, Matt Schulien kept his tavern going (located at Halsted and Willow, currently inhabited by the Black Duck Tavern) by running a speakeasy in the basement. Schulien’s then moved to the North Center neighborhood at the location where present day O’Donovan’s now stands. Schulien’s operated there until shortly after the death of then owner, Charles Schulien, son of Matt Schulien. Schulien’s doors were shut in 1999 after operating for over 110 years, ending its reign as longest continuously operating tavern in Chicago. “Charlie” was the last of three Schulien generations to own the bar, and lived his life right above it. After its close, Schulien’s was sold to the owners of the Twisted Lizard in Lincoln Park and then transformed into the Irving Ale House for a short stint prior to becoming O’Donovan’s. Thanks to John Mickey, nephew of “Charlie” Schulien whose family lived upstairs from Schulien’s in the 1950’s, for providing some of the information above.
I remember going to Schulien’s as a child, and having a magician perform magic tricks right at our table. The tradition started in the 1920’s with legendary magician, Harry Blackstone, Sr. The magician would come around during your meal or, if you notified the waitress early-on, the magician would give you a ten minute show following your meal. There was no charge, but most people tipped $5 to $10. According to old Charlie, that would really burn the waitresses up: “They knock themselves out for an hour and a half for a $10 tip, then the magician gets $10 for 10 minutes of magic.” Charlie, and his son Bob, would also perform tricks invented by Charlie’s father, Matt Schulien. Magic started off as a hobby of Matt’s, but he started to perform tricks while he was working in the bar for his father, Joseph Schulien, after some prodding by customers. One of Matt Schulien’s most popular tricks involved asking a patron to pick a card and place it back in the card deck. Then he would throw the deck against the wall. The card that stuck was inevitably the card chosen by the patron.
Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Al Andrucci known as “Heba Haba Al” performed at Schulien’s. The “Grandfather of Chicago Bar Magic,” who used “heba haba” as his signature line, once had his performance taped at Schulien’s in the 1980’s. This video can be purchased today through resellers like Misdirections Magic Shop (just click on the video to the left for more information). “Heba Haba” moved to Chicago in the 1930’s, and was inspired to perform magic by Matt Schulien. Al performed as a magic bartender in a number of different establishments, including his own bar at the Rogers Park Hotel in the years after World War II. Probably his longest stint was at Johnny’s New York Lounge near Lincoln and Foster, which (now closed) was located down the street from Magic, Inc. After that, Al continued to perform a couple of nights a week at Schulien’s. His magic was fast-paced and very funny. As with many bar magicians, his work was often risqué, but was delivered with an impish charm that allowed him tremendous license. His main act was based on the sugar cube trick found in most beginner’s magic books (in which a penciled-on initial magically transfers to the spectator’s palm), but Al took it in extraordinary directions. Like good ole’ Charlie, “Heba Haba Al” died of a heart attack at age 77.
The menu at Schulien’s consisted of traditional German entrées, with more of an American-styled seafood appetizer selection. You would start off with an old-fashioned relish tray of carrots, celery and radishes, along with a basket of seedless rye bread. Oysters Rockefeller, bacon-wrapped scallops, deep-fried calamari, shrimp, and hackepeter (raw ground sirloin mixed with chopped onions and capers, spread thickly over rye bread) were available as appetizers. Planked whitefish, smoked pork chops, weinerschnitzel, spätzle with red cabbage and topped with a fried egg, duck with wild rice, and prime rib on Saturdays and Sundays, rounded out the selection of entrées. Strudel topped it all off, which came from Lutz’s Bakery.
Schulien’s was also known for having its walls covered with yellowed newspaper clippings (like, “Titanic Sinks”) and celebrity photographs. O’Donovan’s kept the old celebrity photos, the sign (which can be found on the back wall of the back room, beyond the dining room, and which is surrounded by handwritten celebrity quotes on drinking) and the same phone number as used by Schulien’s, in addition to the magic.
“A fine web site about a great place, Sean. In the years 1946-47, I went to Matt Schulien’s with friends and older visiting relatives, one of who found his name in the sign-in book from about 1930. Took Evanston school friends there to eat goldfish as I had previously! Although the story of that fad was in Life Mag, and said to have started with Ivy Leaguers, Matt said it all started there. With Matt’s help I chased the goldfish down with a hastily-made American cheese sandwich (and a draft, of course). For the uninitiated, you were supposed to swallow a carrot slice while spitting out the fish. Guess I was too eager to demonstrate to my ‘Friday afternoon club’ school buddies what (I thought) I had seen other patrons do! Yes, I’m in that somewhat exclusive ‘fish eater’ book, too. Matt was a great jokester and slight-of-hand man, and the topper of the evening was the knife on the north wall with your card on it, but his phone calls to patrons about the next-door to their house being on fire was great, especially as you watched the frantic one in the phone booth (in the bar) and heard them talking ‘on the phone’ to the operator attempting to be helpful (believe the voice was Matt)! ‘A bent elbow toast to his fine memories.”– B.F. (August 19, 2006)
While Schulien’s has joined many other German restaurants and bars that have closed in recent years, like Zum Deutschen Eck, Schwaben Stube, Golden Ox, Schulien’s, Metro Club, Heidelberger Fass, Von Stuke’s Hofbrau, Hogen’s Restaurant, and most recently, Berghoff, I am happy to say that you can still get a mean schnitzel here:
- Chicago Brauhaus
- Resi’s Bierstube
- Laschet’s Inn
- Hansa Clipper
- Glunz Bavarian Haus
Otherwise, head to O’Donovan’s for some pub grub and some of the magic still left behind by Schulien’s and “Heba Haba Al.”