When I was a kid, my Dad took me to a few games at Wrigley Field every summer and, to avoid the crushing press of traffic leaving the game, we would often ascend to the second floor of Sluggers to hit the batting cages. For a kid, this was paradise. Once out of college, the main bar at Sluggers lured me in for cheap beer and a surprisingly lively dance floor. Now the dueling pianos, also upstairs, is an added draw for those seeking a North Side alternative to the River North tourist trap, Howl at the Moon. As such, Sluggers is like an adult amusement park similar to North Beach (the bar), ESPN Zone and Dave & Buster’s, and rivals nearby Wrigleyville sports bar staples.
As the brightly lit marquis proclaims, this “World Class Sports Bar” is located at the northwest corner of Eddy and Clark Streets. A series of green awnings shade banks of windows set within the two-story, beige brick building housing Sluggers. The corner entrance leads to the main floor at Sluggers. Here you’ll find a large island bar with 15 taps, Old Style tallboys and weekend Jello shots, 40 TVs, an impressive display of Cubs and Chicago sports memorabilia that would make our retail display friends at TPH proud, and a stage for dancing when DJs play on weekends. For the adventurous, Sluggers slings up a rather pedestrian menu of pub grub: salads, burgers, wings, and pizza. The back room, located just beyond the restrooms on your left (beware), features seven pool tables and can be booked for private parties.
Think you can hit a 90 mph fastball? Head to the batting cages in the Upper Deck, upstairs from the main bar and accessible via the alternate entrance along Clark. Don’t worry; pitch speeds drop down to 70 mph for baseball. Back before every baseball player was a millionaire, Cubs like Keith Moreland and Lee Smith would stop by to check out the batting cages (I wouldn’t hold my breath for a Cubs sighting these days). Sluggers also offers slow-pitch softball cages with speeds ranging from 40-60 mph, as well as air hockey, Pop-a-Shot, skee-ball, electronic basketball, virtual driving, a ski machine, and hi-ball – the latter of which is like playing basketball on a trampoline (only available in off-season).
If that’s not enough entertainment for you, another room hosts dueling pianos every weekend and after Cubs home games. Patrons are encouraged to get up and dance on the pianos by jumping up a brass pole between them. The ladies eagerly oblige and often come close to falling off, as does the occasional fat bastard. A mural of Ernie Banks hangs on the wall with “Let’s Play Two” himself wisely keeping his back to the shenanigans. Dueling pianos is a recent addition to Sluggers, a far cry from the dwarf wrestling once hosted by the “Half Pint Brawlers,” but abandoned in 2002 due to complaints.
As you would guess, the place is packed during weekend Cub games and Sluggers attracts suburbanites, bachelorette parties and out-of-towners, while city dwellers tend to have a love-hate relationship with the place. Seemingly everyone has a horror story about a bartender or getting chucked out at last call, so consider yourself forewarned – though this is par for the course in Wrigleyville.
Sluggers is sure to entertain anyone, at least for a night – if not for the amusements, then definitely for the lively crowd. Only Cubby Bear, Sports Corner and Murphy’s Bleachers are older as sluggers opened (and is still owned by) the Strauss Family in 1985. If you want to see Sluggers in its full glory, be sure to visit after a weekend afternoon Cubs game. For more information, check out the Sluggers website.