“Tap into the Tradition”
Editor’s Note: Stanley’s replaced Jim McMahon’s bar in 1993 and closed on April Fool’s Day 2018 after 25 years citing a landlord dispute. Sadly, this is no joke. We will miss their brunch that we often barely made before it closed down on weekends at 4pm.
Stanley’s is an interesting combination of down-home, Southern cookin’ and Lincoln Park East-Old Town Triangle nightlife. While Stanley’s is an excellent place for enjoying Sunday brunch while watching football, it is also a good place to check out the local talent. Although Stanley’s gets lots of Lincoln Park Trixies & Chads at night and especially on the weekends, the place is surprisingly laid-back and unpretentious. Mashed potatoes, sport, and hotties – what more could you want?
Once a bar called McMahon’s, Stanley’s is located at the six-way intersection of Lincoln, Armitage and Sedgwick. Many might know Stanley’s not for its name but rather the giant outdoor mural of mashed potatoes on the Lincoln side. Stanley’s is located across from Gamekeepers (Lincoln & Armitage), next door to Sedgwick’s (on Sedgwick), to the east of River Shannon (Armitage), and up the road from Rocco’s Pizza. Despite the fact that the aforementioned places draw huge crowds no matter what time of day, Stanley’s holds its own by attracting a fair number of Lincoln Parkers and suburbanites (perhaps with the promise of “air conditioning” as advertised outside), as well as Texas Longhorn fans.
When you head in to Stanley’s, the two wooden rocking chairs out front stand as a prelude to things to come. Step through the first set of wooden doors and you’ll find a foyer adorned with wallpaper made from old newspaper clippings, retro ads, street signs, and an ATM machine. Through the second set of wooden doors is the hostess station. Feel free to pull up a stool at the 30-foot wooden bar and watch the fish in the tank behind it, have a seat and watch the game (or the crowd) at one of the wooden cocktail tables in the middle of this triangular room, or head to the rear dining area if food is the main thing you’re after. There’s also a black banquette and more cocktail tables along the west wall of Stanley’s, offering a good place to sit back and scope out the talent.
Stanley’s Kitchen aims to give patrons a bit of Southern hospitality. The bartenders at Stanley’s have been known to leave a bottle of Kessler American Bourbon at the end of the bar, with empty shot glasses just hoping to be filled and tossed back, free. While you’d imagine there’d be a throng of drunken regulars gathered around this free booze, I’ve never so much as seen someone look at it let along toss one back. Free peanuts also available are shucked, consumed and thrown around with gay abandon. The decor of the bar consists of a large mirror framed with wooden columns, a painted wooden picture of a chick in a martini glass, newspaper-covered columns, funky red ceiling from which a disco ball hangs, and a wooden shelf that runs across the top of the room that holds beer boxes and a box of “Flutie Flakes” (commemorating former Chicago Bear quarterback Doug Flutie). In addition, When Mother Nature calls, check out the painted wooden catfish over the arch leading to bathrooms. If you’re a guy, have a gander at the bar mural painted on the men’s room stall while you urinate. Despite its efforts, the presence of the Golden Tee machine, several televisions hanging from the ceiling, and the humidor by the door reminds patrons that they are firmly rooted in Chicago. Hardwood floors and an interesting wooden ceiling completes the picture. The only departure from this atmosphere is the rather loungey downstairs room, which serves as a private party room.
As the name implies, Stanley’s Kitchen is known for its Southern cookin’. You’ll find such down-home specialties as fried chicken, biscuits & gravy, macaroni & cheese, meatloaf, catfish, apple pie, and, my new favorite, blackened pork chops. In addition, Stanley’s is the only bar I know of in Chicago where you can actually order greens as a side order (now that Brother Jimmy’s and Brother Joey’s are gone), as well as peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches that are perfect for you cheap-asses out there – you know who you are! Your meal is complimented by a free basket of hush puppies, corn muffins and apple butter while you peruse the menu. Woo doggy! The kitchen closes at 11:00pm but have no fear if you find yourself hungry after this time: the staff at Stanley’s leave out a tub filled with mashed potatoes and gravy. How can you beat that? In addition to a good beer selection to wash all this grub down the hatch, Stanley’s also has an impressive selection of over 100 whiskeys and bourbons.
While the dinner menu is stellar, the Sunday brunch is truly magnificent and the best in the city. Words cannot explain how good their hashbrowns, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, Belgian waffles, muffins, fruit, bagels, cinnamon rolls, and, once again, the macaroni & cheese are especially after a hard night of drinkin’. Stanley’s well-known weekend brunch is topped off with a Bloody Mary bar – they give you three shots of vodka in a 12-ounce glass, and you do the rest from a spread of celery, shrimp, stuffed olives, pickles, pepper, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and more. I once saw a woman with a Big Gulp-sized paper cup that held her Bloody Mary along with a giant stalk of celery that could have been used for corporal punishment purposes if it wasn’t consumed by that lush. I have found Stanley’s ideal for enjoying Sunday brunch while taking in a baseball or football game. It was one Sunday at Stanley’s that I even saw televised lacrosse for the first time. If you go for brunch, just make sure you get there early. Lines often form before the place opens at 11:00am on the weekends, and people are slow to leave as brunch runs until 4:00pm – a time when most of the non-hungover world begins to think about dinner.
The buffet area stands in front of the authentic, white-painted wooden front porch with paned glass windows, a swinging bench and the Golden Tee machine. This porch area leads to the rear dining room, adorned with bowling trophies, quilts, family photos, antiques, and surreal paintings of fruit like those found at Wishbone – another restaurant where you can find southern cooking and more surreal pictures of fruit. It all begs the question: what’s with the Southern fascination with odd fruit paintings? According to some, the dining room was fashioned by a movie set designer to look like a kitchen from a 1950s television sitcom and the space also features an oak fireplace lined with sets of encyclopedias.
“Home Cooking Always Pleases”
While the restaurant attracts mellower patrons, families and neighborhood police officers, the front room attracts the same crowd you’ll find at nearby Gamekeepers, John Barleycorn’s and the Marquee Lounge, but with less attitude. The food is the best Southern cookin’ you’ll get outside of Cracker Barrel, the potatoes are the best after those once found at the now defunct Mashed Potato Club, and the comfort food here is sure to stick to your ribs. In the 2005/06 edition of Zagat’s Chicago restaurant survey, the “soul-soothing” Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap was rated as having good food, nice decor and good service, with an average meal costing you about $18. Zagat’s went on to note that the “locals line up for the scrumptious buffet with the Bloody Mary bar” on weekends. Whatever your hunger, Stanley’s offers a great place to go and now there’s another location in the West Loop on Racine. For more information, check out the Stnaley’s Kitchen & Tap website. In the immortal words of Bart Simpson: “Rub-a-dub-dub, bring on the grub!”
“Oooh, oooh! Me! I have a good story about Stanley’s. Sunday night. Kind of crowded. I came bounding in my brand new ivory and black striped very long scarf (thanks Banana Republic!) It was, I’m proud to say, a big hit. It reminds some of Dr. Seuss — a very fashionable Dr. Seuss I would imagine. Anyway, everyone kept wanting to touch it, try it on, etc. Had I known it was such an attention-getter I would have bought one years ago. So, one particularly drunk fellow asks to borrow it and then disappears into the men’s room. Which I am NOT happy about as I picture my precious accessory drizzled with urine. A loud gasp filled the bar and out walked my scarf — wrapped tightly around a naked man (except he had shoes on). He did a little round about the bar and then handed it back to me and went back to the bathroom, presumably to get dressed.”