Just as Bucktown and Wicker Park were the trendy Bohemian neighborhoods of the ’90s, Humboldt Park and Logan Square have taken the mantle for this decade. Neighborhood taverns like Whirlaway not only trudged along through 40 years of urban decay but are also gaining a newfound popularity. In this case, it’s thanks to the proprietress extraordinaire, Maria. While newcomers like Green Eye Tavern, The Burlington and Weegee’s Lounge have increased the neighborhood’s nightlife appeal, only Whirlaway is able to combine an intriguing history and classic neighborhood atmosphere with an atmosphere that appeals to the West Side’s new hipsters.
Whirlaway is located on the north side of Fullerton Avenue, just west of Kedzie Avenue. A facade of flat stone and pale yellow brick with potted evergreen shrubs lie under a maroon awning with “Whirlaway Lounge – Karczma” (Polish for “inn”) written in white cursive print. Two tiny windows, dating back to the days when large bar windows were often broken by vagrants, are filled with neon Old Style and Pabst signs. As you pass through the wooden door, a single-room taberna awaits.
A wooden bar so old that its surface is warped this way and that, runs most of the length of the eastern wall. Grab a red high-backed, vinyl barstool and you can catch the game on two TVs behind the bar, above a series of pennants for the Cubs and local universities and vintage bowling trophies. The bar doesn’t serve any beer on tap, but offers over 40 in bottles ranging from cheap domestics to a variety of popular imports. Whirlaway’s signature drink: the margarita. There’s no kitchen but, if you’re lucky, Maria will bring in some home cookin’.
If the bar is crowded, you might be able to snag one of a few low-slung tables across from the bar or a stool in front of the tiny windows overlooking Fullerton. The jukebox, halfway down the western wall, is a popular attraction as it features a bevy of local indie tunes, partially consisting of mix CDs brought in by patrons. Whirlaway also features board games found in the northeast corner, with Boggle being surprisingly popular probably because Maria beats patrons at it when business is slow. A green-painted tin ceiling from which hang a series of orange lights, burgundy-painted walls and a hardwood floor rounds out the decor.
The bar dates back to the mid-1940s and was named after a horse named Whirlaway, who won the Triple Crown in 1941. As legend has it, the original owner placed a bet on Whirlaway and opened the bar with his winnings. Whirlaway changed hands and was later purchased in 1980, now run by Maria Jaimes and her husband Sergio. Even though a recent renovation saw the departure of the rarely used tiny pool table, the tavern still features the original accoutrements. Maria herself is loved throughout the neighborhood because she takes care of the regulars: she remembers your name, looks after you and calls the boys nino. For birthdays, she bakes cakes, quesadillas or lasagna after playing Birthday by the Beatles and offering a personal serenade of Happy Birthday. A complimentary shot of Jameson might even be thrown into the mix. A photographic collage of regulars is found in the southwest corner, near the potted plants. Maria is also a big Cubs fan and loves politics, so swing by on any election night and you’re sure to have a good hootenanny.
“The only thing I can complain about are the Cubs fans, but these aren’t your average Cubbies who endanger traffic flow, but the skinny art school variety who can’t really talk baseball. ‘Woo hoo! Touch down for the Cubs! I mean Bears!'”– Sharlene K. on Yelp (September 2, 2007)
Whirlaway may not be as big as other pubs in the area but, with Maria at the helm, has the biggest heart. If you like Whirlaway, you might also like other Logan Square classics, such as Bob Inn, Rosa’s Lounge (for blues) and Mutiny (for punk). Newfangled taverns include Whistler, Green Eye Lounge, Weegee’s Lounge, and Dunlay’s on the Square. And, if you like Marie, you’ll find her Polish soulmate over at Marie’s Riptide for a nightcap. For more information, check out the Whirlaway website. Salud y amor y tiempo para disfrutarlo.