Since 1991, Will’s has been, “a little bit of God’s country in the heart of South Lakeview.” Outside, you’ll find a life-sized moose in the side beer garden and, inside, you’ll more of an authentic Wisconsonian North Woods atmosphere—similar to Lincoln Tavern in Bucktown and unlike than the insipid atmosphere of places like the Lodge Tavern on Division. Will’s is a great neighborhood tavern, particularly for displaced Cheeseheads and those of us who put up with them. In addition to their annual Musky Fest in mid-September, Will’s also serves up free popcorn and their kitchen (opened in 2010) serves up burgers and brats.
Will’s is located in the middle of nowhere on Racine just north of that ever-popular street, Nelson, and shines like a beacon in the night with its soft lighting emanating out onto the street from behind the fish tank in the window with “Will’s Northwoods Inn” stenciled in gold lettering. The bar is wedged in amongst trees, apartments and wood frame houses.
A warm glow permeates Will’s as you walk in the corner door framed by glass blocks on either side. Have a seat at the long wooden bar on your right, with its ample seating in high-backed chairs. A variety of Wisconsin beers are available, including just about every flavor of Leinenkugel on tap (18 in total). “Elegant, if battered” wood paneling reaches almost to the ceiling, and an impressive variety of taxidermy covers whatever space on the blue-painted walls isn’t covered by a beer sign, trap, or dairy industry product. A bobcat is perched over the door leading to the backroom and a giant moose head hovers over the bathroom door. It was this same moose that made an attempt to move in on my date one evening.
It was in men’s bathroom that a friend of mine once hid for ten full minutes to avoid a woman. While waiting for his date to arrive, he ran into his ex-girlfriend that he had been trying to get back together with for months. So, anticipating his date’s imminent arrival, he did as any self-respecting male would do in such an awkward situation: he ran and hid from his date so that he could move in on his ex later. It didn’t work; the ex left shortly thereafter and his date got pissed off in the process…
Having a Wisconsin theme, Illinoisans (a.k.a., FIBs) will have to put up with all the Cheeseheads in the area converging for Packers or University of Wisconsin Badger games where cheese curds, bratwurst, “craisens” (dried cranberries), glogg, and other fattening, artery-hardening delicacies are consumed faster than an Ethiopian chicken. In fact, they even get Jake Leinenkugel himself to appear for their Musky Fest in early October. The people here are very friendly and even arrange canoe trips in the Summer, team trivia on Tuesdays and euchre on Wednesdays. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also find three cork dartboards and a pool table in the side room.
To compensate the neighbors for patron noise and any untoward behavior, Will’s has held their annual “Neighborhood Appreciation Day” every summer, which follows their “Giant Crawfish Boil,” one month earlier. Neighborhood Appreciation Day is a tradition that has been going on for ten years. The 2001 installment began with an eggs, steak, french toast, casserole, hot dogs and peanuts brunch, followed by the Cubs/Brewers game at Wrigley. Afterwards, Will the Moose, “Balloon Picasso,” the Charlie Rex Polka Band, and Hundo all performed in front of a throng enjoying free food and beer. Whew, what a party!
Nothing beats Will’s for a quiet pint before heading out to a Cubs game, or during cold winter nights. History buffs may also appreciate that Will’s was founded by a descendant of William Henry Wheeler, an advocate for the Ojibwa tribe who fought successfully against relocation at the hands of the US government. For more information on the “mostly true” history of Will’s, upcoming events and things “Wisconsonian,” check out Will’s Northwoods Inn website. Ya hey der!