Editor’s note: Southport City Saloon has been replaced by Crossing.
Also known as, “Southport City Bar” and “The Port”, the Southport City Saloon has been a neighborhood treasure for over the last twenty years. Young and old congregate at Southport City for burgers, steaks, billiards and one of the most unique and comfortable beer gardens in the Chicago. Southport City is where you want to go when you’re feeling mellow or are looking for a bar to accommodate a large group of your friends or family. While not known for its excitement, the Port instead offers an inviting, almost upscale atmosphere within its roomy environs.
The large, three-story structure that now houses Southport City Saloon was originally constructed back in 1885, back when Marge’s opened, and started out as a dry good business that was owned by the Hilbrand family who lived upstairs. The building then became the Southport Wetwash Co. in 1923, the White Bunny Laundry in the 1940s (which allegedly served as a front for the largest bookmaking operation on the North Side, rivaling that of even Lottie’s), and then was both a barber shop and hot dog stand in the 1960s. Owner Larry Price then purchased the building in 1976 and, after conducting a thorough renovation, opened the establishment as the Southport City Saloon in 1979.
Today the Southport City Saloon remains near the corner of Wrightwood and Southport Avenues, in a western part of Lincoln Park’s Wrightwood Neighbors section. Here, the Port is close to Bird’s Nest, Jack’s-404 Wine Bar (formerly Black Cat), Maeve (once the Blue Parrot), and the now-defunct Pour House (still visible in its decayed shingled glory). Southport City is easy to find with its impressive façade of either Anglo or Germanic-style, reminiscent of the German Restaurant, Zum Deutschen Eck, that used to be located just up the street. American flags wave out over the sidewalk next to a bright green sign with white lettering. Potted evergreens have replaced the blue and red awnings that used to extend curbside, just in front of the thick wooden door with its large brass handle.
Inside the Port you’ll find a dark wood-finished expanse, beginning with a long wooden bar that offers a good selection of ales that runs the length of the room on your right-hand side. From here you can head into the pool room or into the dining room. Younger types, including alumni from Northwestern University, Loyola University New Orleans and Princeton as well as members of the Chicago Hash House Harriers and Chicago Belgian-American Club, tend to hang out in the bar and pool room, which offers two tables and a smattering of seating in front of windows overlooking Southport Avenue. Older neighborhood types nosh on somewhat pricy entrées that include steaks, chops, ribs, seafood, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and white chocolate cheesecake in the subdued dining room. This area is adorned by 25 flags from around the world hanging from a lattice ceiling and white brick walls. Toy parrots and televisions are also available for your amusement. In addition, the Sunday champagne buffet is served from 11:00 a.m. onwards and features eggs benedict, maple sausages, scrambled eggs, and a variety of other breakfast delicacies, and there’s a bus that leaves for all Chicago Bears games in the Fall. Beyond the dining room is a sunken room known as, “The Cellar.” This room actually served as a boiler room and commercial laundry at various points in Southport City’s history, but now extends the restaurant area of the bar and is occasionally used for private parties. The Cellar is a comfortable room with a large fireplace in the middle of the wall, below a mounted deer head, slide ruler, weather vane, and three antique sleds.
Accessible through a door in the dining room is the beer garden, where everyone hangs out. This space, with its red brick pavement, looming three-story façade bedecked with string lights, hanging lights from wires, and old fashioned street lamps, gives it the feel of a medieval European square. The beer garden is filled with thick wooden tables with white plastic chairs shielded by green cloth umbrellas. These tables can accommodate groups of two, four, six or more. Patrons in the beer garden are served by a green-painted, wooden back bar housed in what looks like an old coach house, which has a few televisions and has a 100-foot ash tree growing through it. A shingled porch stands opposite the bar, held up by slender white posts, and shelters additional tables and a variety of posters. I wonder if the beer garden once served as a rear delivery area for horses as there is a large white gate decorated with bunting that looks like it was made for horse carriages as well as a Rolling Rock sign depicting a horse’s head. Then again, maybe I’m reading too much into beer advertising… The beer garden is also open when the weather turns a bit colder, heated by four heat lamps and a red brick fireplace above which hangs a pair of skis, poles and a sunflower with “Welcome” written over it in metalworking.
In the 2006 edition of Zagat’s Chicago restaurant survey, Southport City Bar was rated as having good food, decor and service, with an average meal costing you about $19 – “many advise ‘sticking to’ the ‘reliable burgers.'” While the rating is less than stellar, most people go to the Southport City Saloon because of its casual yet tasteful atmosphere whether it’s in the pool room, dining room, cellar, or in the magnificent beer garden. I recommend you visit the Port next time the weather warms up and you’re looking for a good place to have dinner before you head out on the town. For more informaton, you’ll have to call as Southport City Saloon does not have a website. Cheers!