It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that the South Loop was not quite ready for prime time—or anytime after dark for that matter. Now the bustling neighborhood is home to an abundance of college students, homesteaders and a little gem called the Wabash Tap.
Wabash Tap is located just south of Roosevelt in the site formerly occupied by Koko Taylor’s Celebrity Club. The bar is operated by Mainstay Hospitality, owners of two other South Loop establishments, the sleek retro Chicago Firehouse Restaurant and the upscale Grace O’Malley’s Pub. The Wabash Tap targets a more down-market vibe, which is apparent even before you step inside. The understated signage out front makes the place look much older than it is (it opened circa 2002) and gives the place a timeless, slightly dated, quality. The “patio” consists of exactly two tables outside the narrow store front. Inside, you’ll find a deep rectangular room with a wide variety of seating and entertainment options for a wide variety of clientele.
The juke box and ATM are located in front along with a small elevated space, which serves as the stage when Wabash Tap infrequently hosts live music. An ample dark wood bar runs along the southern wall with abundant table seating throughout. The ceiling is dark and the lights are low, the better to obscure the limited decoration which consists of a few beer signs, promotional flyers and oversized baseball schedules. There are seven televisions spread around and a number of other diversions for the antsy. A well maintained pool table sits just behind the main seating area and along the rear wall you’ll find an electronic dart board, electronic Bagg-o and a video game for those who enjoy massacring defenseless, animated deer. Though you’ll find other reviews that use the word “dive” or “divish” to describe the Wabash Tap, one look at the roomy, updated bathrooms will tell you are not in a dive of any kind.
A simple, friendly neighborhood bar is a more accurate description of the Wabash Tap. Upon first sitting down, our server immediately told us the daily special—$3.50 you-call-it drafts in this case. What a nice change of pace from the many other bars I’ve been where the staff seems to guard the daily specials like KFC guards its secret blend of eleven herbs and spices. But value is the name of the game at Wabash Tap. The abbreviated menu sticks to the basics like nachos, tacos and burgers, with no item running over $6—and that includes fries with the sandwiches. (While most items looked and smelled tasty, the personal pizzas definitely went from freezer to toaster oven to table and should probably be avoided.) You’ll find a dozen beers on tap, ranging from Rogue Dead Guy Ale, to PBR pints served daily for a scant $2. There are another 20 or so beers available by the bottle and a food and drink specials every day of the week.
The crowd at the Wabash Tap runs the gamut, spanning in age from their early 20’s to their late 60’s, with the demographic veering younger as the night wears on. T-shirts and softball jerseys are as common as sport shirts and peasant blouses, so don’t waste time fretting about your wardrobe. Wednesday’s Guest Bartender program brings in a range of groups pouring suds for their favorite charity, so give them a call if you’re looking to support your cause. And don’t forget the Wabash Tap if you’re commuting to or from Soldier Field. It’s location a block from both the Roosevelt Red Line stop and Michigan Avenue makes the Wabash Tap one of the closest, and certainly the cheapest, place to grab a drink before or after a Bears game—did I mention $10 pitchers of Bud on Sundays?
For a laid back, value-priced hangout in the South Loop, you’ll be hard pressed to do any better than the Wabash Tap. If you like the Wabash Tap, you might want to check out the Matchbox, Marge’s Still or the ever-funky Weeds Tavern. Visit the Wabash Tap website for more information. Now, drink up.