Small Bar on Division has built itself quite a big reputation. And in most regards, deservedly so. Its West Ukrainian Village location is part of one of the hottest nightlife strips in town and it can arguably rank among two of the city’s Top 10 lists: Best Beer Bar and Best Soccer Bar. Sure, the service may occasionally deserve a yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct but overall, Small Bar more than holds its own against some hefty neighborhood competition.
Part of what is now a local chain, including locations in Lincoln Park and Avondale, Small Bar on Division can be found sandwiched between two other prominent drinking establishments, Fifty/50 and InnJoy. Partially hidden by, of all things, a tree, look for the bar’s multi-colored ransom note-like sign and modest sidewalk café. The rectangular bar room itself is actually of average size, painted an eye-opening shade of yellow-orange, with an impressive collection of lava lamps, thoughtfully placed out of reach of curious hands. If you’re interested in talking beer, grab one of the dozen seats at the small-ish bar where you can converse with the knowledgeable bartenders. Otherwise, grab a seat at one of the communal or individual seating options that fill-in the room, or, as is often the case, find some standing room in-between. TVs are plentiful and when the tellys aren’t tuned to footers, a solid jukebox provides a backing soundtrack. Live bands are also known to perform on occasion.
A chalkboard at the back of the room will give you the 411 on beer specials and special selections, of which there are many. A recent count totaled 157 options for your beer drinking pleasure: 123 by the bottle, 23 on draft, 10 in cans, 1 cask conditioned offering, and a partridge in a pear tree. This is a place where beer connoisseurs congregate, so it’s not uncommon to find home brewers tapping one of their creations for a charity event, or a limited edition craft brew that you’re not likely to see anywhere else. While the rare high-end selections can cost over $30 for a 750ml bottle, there are enough value options and daily specials to accommodate any budget. I seem to recall seeing a fully stocked bar on the premises, but coming here and not having a beer is kind of like going to Chinatown and ordering a cheeseburger.
While not earth-shattering, Small Bar does have a rather massive menu and keeps their kitchen open until 1am seven days a week. The selection of upscale sandwiches, salads, apps and pizzas, generally honor bar food, rather than insult it. Want a fried egg on your burger? Go for it. Want two fried eggs? Then come for weekend brunch.
While the vast majority of bars that feature “the beautiful game” have a distinct Anglo-Irish-Euro bent, Small Bar offers a secular soccer experience. Sure, you’ll find the walls plastered with scarves from many legendary European teams, and the English Premier League takes over on weekends, but this is one soccer bar where you can proudly show up in your team USA jersey and not be greeted by muffled snickers. The bar shows just about every soccer match of consequence wherever in the world the players take the pitch. Subsequently, if you’re looking for a rowdy scene on a Saturday morning, or just trying to keep Friday night going, Small Bar is the place to be.
In some ways, Small Bar reminds me of the old Yogi Berra saying: “No one goes to that place anymore. It’s too crowded.” And sometimes, Small Bar can be a victim of its own success. The place can get mobbed, with a crowd that goes well beyond the soccer faithful and includes numerous locals, beer aficionados and assorted imported yuppies who take the term “pub crawl” too literally. When a place gets busy and a server gets slammed, some tables suffer. I recently fell into that category. It was hard to track down our waitress when it came time for a second round. When we did locate her and ordered, 15 minutes passed before we saw her again, empty-handed. A friendly reminder immediately produced our beers, which were warmer than the summer night when they arrived. Obviously, they had been poured when we first ordered and had been sitting on the bar forgotten. I might have expected an apology. A re-pour. I got an un-discounted check instead. Oh well. Next time, I’m waiting for a bar stool.
If you’re looking for some soccer action or beer satisfaction, Small bar will be well worth the visit. If you enjoy Small Bar, you should make big plans to visit Map Room, Globe Pub or Ginger’s Ale House. For more info, visit the Small Bar website. Gooooaaaaal!