Toons is an excellent neighborhood bar that hasn’t yet been corrupted by popularity like some other bars in the area, in the same league as Gannon’s Pub, Four Moon Tavern and Matilda. While the menu won’t win any awards for originality, the food is very good and compliments the eclectic décor. Throw in entertainment from a variety of pub sports and you’ve got a winner any day of the week. And, contrary to what you might expect, there is a very subtle cartoon motif that makes you feel a little bit like you were in a cartoon rather than being overwhelmed by Mickey Mouse and Bart Simpson paraphernalia.
The cartoon effect was once highlighted on the outside of Toons by large, brightly painted bar items like a daiquiri glass and beer mug, along with an artist’s palette. The façade has since been painted white with the glass blocks framing the picture window with its lone Guinness Stout neon sign having been blown out and replaced by sliding glass windows that are kept open in summer and compliment the sidewalk café. However, the wooden sign above the door remains scripted in cartoon-ish letters in the original spirit of the bar. When you walk in, you’ll find a long wooden bar on your right that curves out intriguingly at the west end. Behind it, 16 beers on tap blend into an eclectic variety of items, including something that looks like a bare, rotating Chia Pet dragon, red beveled lighting, green, blue and orange light panels, lava lamps, a toy metal airplane, and several softball trophies. Red light bulbs glow in the old-fashioned ceiling fans hanging above the bar. Toons enthusiasts may be interested to know the the “Floyd” character that appears in Chicago Reader and the now defunct Barfly News is a regular at Toons, and can often be found at the east end of the bar. Not only is Floyd featuring in their advertising, but there is also an, “Elect Floyd” poster behind the bar.
“Happy birthday to ‘Floyd’…”
“Happy birthday to ‘Floyd!’…”
“Happy birthday, dear ‘Shaky Pants’…”
“Happy birthday to you!”– Toons ad, as it appeared in the August 1-15th edition of Barfly News
Several cocktail tables are separated from the bar by a worn wooden floor. In summer, these tables are frequently filled with softball teams sponsored by the bar. Along the wall is a tribute to Fabian, Frankie Avalon, and Elvis hung just below the small windows. Two somewhat garish, brightly painted murals of Toons patrons also hang on either side of this wall. As you ponder the motivations of the deranged artists responsible for these works, you can enjoy a selection from Toons’ menu served by waitresses that often wear leather pants. I can personally vouch for the tastiness of the burgers, chili, catfish, gumbo, buffalo wings, and how the leather pants fit on the waitresses. Lounge lizards will appreciate the “Martooni” martini.
As you head towards the hallway leading to the back room, notice the giant wooden Heineken red star decorated with green Heineken bottles. Although a departure from the cartoon effect, there is an impressive stuffed hammerhead shark mounted on the wall above the bar that Grizzly’s Lodge or Will’s Northwoods would be proud of. In back, you can have a crack at the pool table with some of baseball’s greats looking down on you from framed murals of old baseball cards. If pool doesn’t do it for you, check out the electronic shuffleboard table. Pucks are available at the bar and, for the low price of $1, teams of two play up to 15 points. Players attempt to slide their pucks down a long, narrow wooden board with tiny silicon pellets to provide the appropriate lubrication. This has to be one of the best bar games in all of Chicago, even though I am still haunted by the memory of playing with a friend of mine that was turning 30 the next day. After an afternoon of drinking strong beer at Goose Island Wrigleyville and the Full Shilling Public House, we couldn’t get into Cullen’s down the block to hit on au pairs so we headed to Toons for some shuffleboard. Whoever happened to play with my friend got slaughtered, as he would either hurl his puck well off the board or slide it off the side like bowling gutter ball before it got halfway down the table. We also had to endure the bizarre rantings of a bartender from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Afterwards, my friend wrapped up the evening by tearing off the end of the shuffleboard table and hurling it across the room, punching trees along the sidewalk on Southport, power walking into a parking meter, and risking his brothers life by cooking grilled cheese unattended in the middle of the night.
“Just a long foul ball from the friendly confines you’ll find our friendly confines”
The corridor outside of the one-seater, green & blue ceramic-tiled, unisex bathrooms is black-lit and decorated with glow-in-the-dark skyscrapers, stars and planets. You will have plenty of time to check out the universe, as well as all the lint and stains you never knew were on your clothing, while standing in the inevitable line that forms even when the bar is half-empty. Please be patient with the bathroom situation, as the neighbors often have to put up with urinating bar flies – including a friend of mine that proceeded to whip it out and pee on a tree in clear view from all sides. Naughty, naughty.
Listen to Sean Parnell of the Chicago Bar Project on the second anniversary of the WLUW 88.7FM Loyola radio program, recorded at Toons
In the spirit of this cartoon-like atmosphere, my date one night was observed affixing a glow-in-the-dark Miller Lite sticker on her left breast. The glowing boob effect was quite impressive: it glowed through her shirt, startling a few bar patrons. It was also at Toons that I also heard a friend’s story about how legendary Victory Auto Wreckers (in Bensenville, near O’Hare) refused to tow his broken-down BMW away, contradicting their claim of, “That old car is worth money. Call Victory Auto Wreckers and we’ll tow it away,” that they make in their television commercial that has aired every year since the late 1970s. My friend circumvented this problem by selling the jalopy in question to some poor sap for cold cash money: $20.
Such craziness was also a part of Doninger’s Tavern, which is the old German joint that Toons used to be. A Chicago Bar Project fan sums it up here:
“Interesting about the ‘Floyd’ legend here. In the early 80s I lived on Southport a block north of Irving (on the second floor of the only two-flat on the east side of that street). Toons was known as ‘Doninger’s Tavern’ then. It was just a neighborhood bar, likely a remnant of the former heavy German population there. Doninger’s was never crowded and the only people in there were local trades guys and numerous bartenders from North Side bars. It was a very comfortable place, done up in dark wood. A jukebox filled with German tunes and an electromechanical shuffle alley in very good repair. The ONLY bartender I ever saw there was Floyd. Chubby guy in his mid-60s. You could swear he was the younger brother of W.C. Fields. Same looks and sense of humor. Floyd was legendary among those North Side bartenders. Often on a Sunday evening I’d be the only one in there. I’d be having my usual draft Beck’s (served in an elaborate cut-glass stein) and shot of Jägermeister. After a few rounds, Floyd would come up with a fresh Beck’s and a shot of Jägermeister. He’d look left, then right, park the drinks in front of me, then lean in closely and say in a soft voice, ‘These are on me. Don’t tell anyone.’ Even though there was nobody else in the place. I REALLY miss that place.”– Tony E. (October 14, 2003)
Toons is one of those rare bars that is a great place to hang out in both during the week or on weekends. In fact, two friends of mine lived a few doors down and would refer friends that were waiting for them to go out, to have a drink at Toons while they finished getting ready. How could you not like a bar like that? Enjoy.
“May you be in Heaven a half hour before the Devil knows you’re dead”
[back to the Chicago Bar Project]
Old-school Toons, circa 2001