“Chicago’s Hottest Sports Lounge”
It sounded like a fun night out. Meet a friend, watch the game. Grab a few beers, a bite to eat, and maybe kick it up a notch by throwing some good money at some bad ponies. The last part greatly winnowed our options and led us to Stretch Run Sports Club & Grille. The following is based on actual events...
Stretch Run is located at the southeast corner of LaSalle Drive and Campbell Place, just south of Ohio Street in River North. Prior to opening in late 2007, there were only three off-track betting (OTB) options in the city: Mud Bug on Weed Street in SoNo (South of North Avenue), 111th Street OTB near I-94 and Jackson OTB at Jackson & Wells, the latter two of which, like Stretch Run, are owned by Inter-Track Partners LLC. An illuminated sign hangs over the sidewalk, where an embedded video screen plays a loop of video snippets and messages designed to grab attention and maximize rear-end collisions.
Enter the glass doors and you will encounter a hostess stand and checkout counter. Purchase your racing form here, then nod to the armed, uniformed security officer, who checks IDs when deemed necessary. There are a couple of tables at street-level, along with the obligatory Golden Tee and assorted video games. Overall, the initial feeling is very corporate, almost sterile in the way that every last detail seems pre-arranged.
Up a few steps is the main level, consisting of a bar and waitress station that is surrounded on three sides by assorted high-boy and standard dining tables. The bar itself is rather small but the surrounding space is large. A betting window is set along the north side of the bar, but most wagering is accomplished via electronic machines. There are 240 screens in-house, so you are never more than a couple feet away from human or equine competition. The best bet is the area behind the bar, where plenty of space separates the elevated tables. The crowd mostly consists of business dudes, blue-collar dudes, college dudes, shady dudes, and occasionally a female co-worker or coerced date.
Stretch Run does have a full menu, but it seems eerily similar to the now-defunct Bennigan’s and you can probably guess the beer list without ever walking in the door. There are food and drink specials, but they come with stipulations. There are only a pair of unisex one-seater johns to serve the main floor. Larger, multi-person variations await upstairs.
Otherwise, the second floor is strictly for hardcore racing purists. You’ll find more big screens and rows and rows of individual cubicles, each with its own monitor. A nicely appointed bar along one wall sits closed most of the time. Up here is where you’ll find the eccentric racing junkies: the blue-haired grannies who have been playing the pari-mutuels since Whirlaway raced, the shifty-eyed guys who scrape together $2 to play that 80:1 long shot that just can’t lose, Kramer-like individuals betting on a “mudder” or some other hot tip they recieved, etc.
Wagering is available for races taking place across the U.S. and around the world, like Australia—where you can bet on tomorrow’s races today. Daily simulcasts bring live coverage from numerous tracks, so you can watch the action unfold. The racing form gives all the basic information, if you can figure out how to read it. And of course, you can always just pick your winners based on their cute names.
My personal experience aside, it’s possible that Stretch Run can be an okay place if you’re looking for something different. A few beers and a few bets can really get your adrenaline pumping. If you’re hungry, there are literally 100 other restaurants within walking distance, so my advice is to fill up first then head over to Stretch Run for a trifecta or two. I just pray that you have a better time than I did…
My Night at Stretch Run
“I see you have $2.50 Miller drafts and $0.50 cent wings on special.” I said.
“You can’t just order one wing though. You have to order 10 or more.” Our waitress informed us.
For a second this sounded funny, kind of like the Chris Rock cameo in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, then I started to get annoyed. I was dressed nicely and didn’t smell, so is it my problem if the place attracts transients who order one wing? So, Stretch Run really doesn’t have a $0.50 wing special. They have 10 wings for $5.00. Fine.
Our food eventually came (not served by the waitress) and was largely forgotten as soon as it was eaten. We sat there for about two hours and saw our waitress maybe three times. Thank god we had horse races to watch and lose in the interim.
Though there were maybe 15 tables in the whole place, they had let them spread across the three downstairs seating areas and it became apparent that she was the only one on duty. I felt bad for her, as she ran around like a chicken with her head cut-off. But at this point we wanted the check and she had perfected the art of not making eye-contact to avoid being summoned.
The manager was leaning against a railing a few feet away watching TV, so my friend walked up and asked for the check, and almost as an aside said “I can’t believe you only have one waitress on tonight.”
As if my friend had told the manger to piss off, the manager blanched and yelled “Don’t you know we’re in a recession!”
(Note: I worked in the service industry for years. Wait-staff gets paid well below minimum wage and receives zero benefits. They survive on tips. So, Stretch Run would have been set back about $30 for the night to have a 2nd waitress. Lame excuse, if that was one.)
He continued: “You have no idea how much money this place is losing. We make hardly anything off the bets.”
(Note: I have never heard management at any establishment offer up financial details of their apparently failing business. Is their inadequate business model my fault? The high River North rent? Again, was this supposed to be an excuse?)
Instead of grabbing our check, the manager threatened to have us removed and stalked off to scream at the waitress in full ear-shot of other customers. Now mind you, neither one of us said a negative word either to or about the waitress. No profanity was used. There was no obvious reason for the histrionics. All we wanted was our check.
A minute passed and the waitress emerged with a hearty “Fuck you.” We got our check. She launched the vinyl checkbook from ten feet away. I ducked and the checkbook struck the pint glasses on our table, knocking them over like bowling pins.
Now my friend was pissed. He took the checkbook and followed the waitress to her station demanding an explanation. Instead, she took the credit card from his hand, swiped it, placed it back in the checkbook and hurled it again. This time it struck my friend in the chest.
The waitress stormed off, repeating “fuck,” as if it was the only word she knew. My stunned friend collected his credit card from the ground. The armed guard approached and it was time to leave… which is all we had been trying to do for the last twenty minutes.
Maybe this was a once-ever event for Stretch Run, or maybe stretch run aptly describes where this bar is in its life-cycle. Like I said earlier, you may just have a fine time if you decide to come here, but I’ll give you 10:1 odds that I won’t be back.