Take Five

Editor’s Note: Take Five increased prices from their namesake $5 menu last summer and was out of business by the end of the year. Bar owners take note.

Along the increasingly popular Southport Corridor, Take Five has quickly established itself as one of the best sports bars in the area – a feat not easy to do with Toons just down the block and Justin’s, Southport Lanes and Schoolyard Tavern serving as bookends on the other end of Southport, towards Belmont. The main story at Take Five is the food: every appetizer or entree costs $5, which is a refreshing change from $8 quesadillas and $10 hamburgers so commonly charged elsewhere. [Editor’s Note: Take Five increased most pricing on their menu to $6.50 or higher in Summer 2008. For shame!]. People stay for the games, shown on two big screens, a plethora of plasmas and even on your own flatpanel if you can snag one of the booths. All of the above makes Take Five ideal for any major sporting event, though they still need to work out the kinks with their specials and service.

For many years, Take Five was Strega Nona, an Italian restaurant of little distinction, and was the Southport Department Store prior to that, run by Meyer Cohn. The owners Joe and Charlie Carlucci, who also own Carlucci’s in Downers Grove, converted the space to Take Five in 2005 and developed the “5” theme to quickly differentiate itself, which it has done successfully. Take Five is located next to Cullen’s on Southport, across from Blue Bayou, and just south of Grace and the immensely popular Argentinean steakhouse, Tango Sur. Step through the pair of doors and past the ATM machine, and you’ll find yourself in the northwest corner of the large open space with high ceilings plated in copper, a combination of hardwood and ceramic tiled flooring, and exposed brick walls. A large wooden island bar is set towards a bank of French doors that open out in summer, along the western wall. There you can grab a high-backed barstool at the bar or at a smattering of cocktail tables at the windows or in the center of the room. If you’re lucky, park yourself in one of the booths and enjoy programming of your own choosing. A pair of larger booths in the southeast and southwest corners seat 8-10 people, feature their own flatpanel TV and even have a curtain that can be drawn for privacy. No matter where you are, there’s a TV close by along with a big screen on the eastern and northern walls. If that’s not enough to entertain you, there’s a red-felted pool table in front of the ramp leading up into a wood-paneled hallway to the kitchen and bathrooms, through the eastern wall.

The board of fare at Take Five offers the usual selection of appetizers, salads and burgers, and also features a selection of comfort food called “Fab Fives” that includes chicken parmesan, rotisserie chicken or pork, and even a turkey leg – and you thought you’d have to wait until summer to get your turkey leg from Helen’s at Taste of Chicago! A selection of desserts is also available and provided by nearby Sensual Bites. On my visits, the turkey burger with BBQ sauce was surprisingly tasty, the tater tot basket enormous, the meatball “wedge” sandwich quite good but almost impossible to eat with your hands, and the pita bread and chips appetizer is served with a satisfying selection of dipping sauces (salsa, spicy cheese, artichoke & spinach, and hummus) in a cool little metal arch. The only problem with $5 is that is what they charge for side orders as well, and a basket of fries or tater tots for $5 is double what you will pay anywhere else. While no food item costs more than a finny, the same can’t be said for pints of Guinness (misspelled on the menu and not poured well), Fat Tire, and Hacker-Pschorr. Take Five also features a decent selection of wines by the glass and a small menu of cocktails, like the Sun Kissed Martini (served with Red Bull and cranberry juice) and, more importantly, an alcoholic version of the Orange Whip just like at Finley Dunne’s – Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Three orange whips! (If you are unfamiliar with this reference, you need to obtain a copy of the Blues Brothers on DVD, watch it three times in a row and e-mail your apology to me for not having done so earlier!)

The crowd at Take Five is what you would expect for the area: people in their late twenties and early thirties, including couples that haven’t yet fled to the suburbs. And guys, pay attention – the place is jammed with femininas on Thursdays for new episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and $5 Grey Goose vodka drinks. Ladies, it’s your turn with the fellas when new episodes of 24 air on Fox. Though I appreciate the originality of Take Five, I was disappointed to see that they are now one of way too many bars in Chicago to show Michigan football games. Can a brother get an NIU, Illinois or Northwestern game?

Take Five is also a great place to see the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, particularly on the opening Thursday and Friday. On our visit in 2007, Take Five opened early at 10:00am and offered $12 buckets of Miller High Life (five bottles). We were a bit chagrined when we were told by our server that they ran out High Life around six. After cajoling our server, who was very friendly and accommodating, we were then offered the same deal with Miller Genuine Draft, which they ran out of around 9pm. That was replaced with Miller Lite just in time for the Miller Lite girls who gave everyone drinking a Miller Lite a prize – small foam basketballs for the guys (which were promptly hurled around the bar) and t-shirts for the ladies. On a somewhat disturbing note, once the games concluded, loud cheeseball 80’s hairbanger music was spun by a DJ and was accompanied by a strange montage of concert footage and women working out in leotards.

In addition for $5 pub grub, I can especially appreciate Take Five as one of the few bars to open lately without an Irish theme. I love a good authentic pub like Irish Oak, Celtic Crossings or The Grafton, but it gets old when there’s one on every block. And for the love of God, though its predecessor was a restaurant, Take Five is decidedly a sports bar that serves food – not a restaurant. I have seen many reviews on the web that berate the place for disappointing quality of food and service, but what do you expect at a bar that serves food for $5? If you want bigger portions, free refills every five minutes on your Diet Coke, and if you complain of music “played too loud,” it’s time to take your Prozac, head elsewhere and try not to be so high maintenance. If you want to have fun, watch the game and take it easy on your wallet, Take Five. For more information, particularly for the daily special, check out the Take Five website. Dave Brubeck would be proud.