Also known as Tai’s Lounge and consistently misspelled elsewhere on the web, this 4:00am bar was recently re-named “Tai’s til 4” due to its enormous popularity in the wee hours, thanks to its late-night liquor license and proximity to Wrigleyville and the Southport Avenue. You may be surprised to learn that Tai’s has been around since 1961 and has always attracted a steady group of regulars. Nowadays, once all the other bars close in the area, a horde of drunken Cub fans and nightcrawlers of all walks of life descend upon Tai’s, all of which gleefully violate the Chicago Bar Project’s time-honored mantra of “Nothing good happens after 2:00am.”
Tai’s til 4 is located on the east side of Ashland, just north of Addison, and lies within the base of a two-story building of yellow brick. Until a few years ago, the façade of Tai’s consisted of sea green-painted wood with white trim with an Old Style sign hanging above it. Today, the exterior of Tai’s has been renovated with large plate-glass windows and silver metal replacing the wood-paneling, and a blue and silver “Tai’s til 4” sign hangs above the door, backlit in white. If you arrive earlier in the evening, you’ll get right in and be carded by a bouncer just inside but, as the night wears on, a line begins to form about a half-hour before other bars start closing. At this time, you’ll have to pass additional scrutiny from the bouncer standing outside who both cards the incoming and helps “pacify” an increasingly unruly crowd that forms outside as a steady stream of cabs pulls up and vomits forth their drunken passengers.
Once inside Tai’s, you’ll find a smallish front room with a “beige” drop ceiling (once white but stained with all the smoke through the years), faux wood-paneling, a handful of cocktail tables inside the windows overlooking Ashland, and a worn wooden bar that runs along the southern wall and offers a few beers on tap. Across from the bar is a small pool table that gets covered up later at night that would otherwise generate too many fights. A narrow hallway leads to the back room, which is where you’ll find the surprisingly roomy restrooms. A girl that looks like she’d rather peal off her own skin serves bottles of beer with lightning speed at a tiny makeshift bar, opposite a Golden Tee and a few cocktail tables. The back room once featured two cork dartboards and errantly thrown steel darts but now features a Top 40 dance party, with tunes spun by a DJ.
Tai’s attracts an intriguing mix of inebriates. A loyal following of neighborhood condo-dwellers come in for early action and the bartenders that remember names and favorite drinks. When all other bars close, you’ll find everybody and their brother come to Tai’s for a “nightcap,” with most trying to pick-up on the sweatbox dance floor or to pull at the bar. Cub hats, heels, mullets, low-slung jeans with exposed boxers, chubby-chasers – it seems that weak judgement is independent of background.
“Very diverse and bizarre crowd. I saw what looked like a gang banger grinding on a trixie at 3AM looked at my friend and said, “Now I have seen it all.'”– James B. (June 15, 2006)
It was only after a pink “Tai’s til 4” neon sign made an appearance in the front window that a public name was actually given to this den of iniquity. The joint is named after the owner, Thomas “Tai” Itagaki. However, every year over the past few, Tommy Tai and his family have renovated the joint, chunk by chunk, while they vacation for two weeks in January. First it was the backroom, followed by the façade and front room, though Tai’s maintains a minimalist décor and dive atmosphere – just a much nicer one as its true character is dominated by late-night debauchery thanks to those the place attracts.
“Be careful at Tai’s. I got a little sloshy there, and rather than simply being asked to go home, I was choked and slammed up against a car outside by the bouncer. Even before that nasty little incident, my friends and I have referred to Tai’s as ‘the gateway to H*&^.’ Anyone you pick up there is likely to look like a big mistake in the morning.”– James Jones (September 22, 2004)
When I first came to know Tai’s in the mid-90s, it was much more of a dive than it is today, and Tommy Tai would give me the evil eye along with my evil British companion that we called “Nigel” (though this was not his real name), who would routinely pick up drunken lasses thanks to his accent. A few years later, a friend of mine came for a visit. I left for my apartment, located a few blocks away, and he stayed behind to chat up a troll. Though he had been at my place before, he got lost and slept in a doorway on his way back that turned out to be across the street from my place. This was probably a better fate than if he had been “successful” at the bar… Such is par for the course at Tai’s. In fact, it took me a long time to write this review as I somehow found it very difficult to remember the place the next day… I wonder why? These days, you’ll still occasionally find Tommy Tai earlier in the evening, but then his tavern-savvy son takes over later. If you like Tai’s for late-night, you might also like Nick’s Uptown, Carol’s Pub and Marie’s Riptide. Anyone for some Burrito House afterwards? It could save your life…