With an atmosphere that seems like a cross between Weeds and Delilah’s, Shoes is just about the farthest thing from a pub I can imagine. Instead, Shoes is more like a biker dart bar (if there is such a thing), but not with the unwelcoming feel you’d expect.
Shoes’ black and white, battered wooden sign welcomes you to this darkened neighborhood joint located just west of the heart of Lincoln Park. Shoes’ geographic proximity to both Zella’s and Kincade’s is the only thing it shares with these pretentious rivals. Walk into Shoes Pub and you will find an odd little room. The edge of the worn wooden bar comes within two feet of the door, but if you can squeeze past, there is seating on that side at the front window. The other side offers nice, padded wooden booths and additional front window seating. The front part of the room is nicely decorated with a hardwood floor, tin ceiling and exposed brick walls. Most of the space up front is dedicated to three regulation dart boards, complete with cricket whiteboards for scoring. Shoes takes darts so seriously that there is even a small counter offering the largest selection of darts and dart supplies on the north side of Chicago, all purchased from LaSalle Dart Supplies.
The back part of the room, shall we say, has more “character” than the front. There is a tiny pool table, books on an old metal bookshelf, faux wood paneling, and kegs lie on the floor next to stacked folding chairs. The bathrooms are located back there, and offer the finest Dawn dishwashing detergent for hand soap. Shoes does not have a kitchen, but once featured a limited selection of quickly prepared food from the now-defunct Burgundy Inn on Ashland Avenue, in a similar relationship to that of Ivan’s and Café el Tapatio further north also on Ashland, so call ahead if you’re hungry.
The crowd is an interesting mix of bikers, older neighborhood folks, dart fanatics, and a surprisingly strong elderly woman that grabbed my arm and playfully demanded to know who won the pool game I was in. Perhaps a younger element has begun to frequent the place, but this would most likely be a new development that the bartenders appear to struggle with. This was evidenced by the bartender who carded every member of a large group I was with once we had been in the bar for at least 10 minutes.
“Across the street from Big John’s is Shoes, which is perhaps the last bar in this neighborhood which has a mixed ethnic clientele. People who come here after work have actually worked during the day, and there’s a pleasant interracial atmosphere. Young people, neighborhood workers, and factory workers from the industrial area immediately to the west, are all found here.”– Dennis McCarthy, The Great Chicago Bar & Saloon Guide (1985)
While not really being a “pub” in the classic British sense, Shoes is still a good place to have a few beers, throw some darts, shoot some tiny pool, and trade hog stories with the locals. For more information, you’ll have to phone first as Shoes Pub no longer has a website. Bottoms up, bad boy.