When I moved to Chicago a couple months back I had no clue where one went on a Friday night after work. And while Chicago is known for great food and killer nightlife in the downtown area, I definitely did not feel like paying downtown prices. After a lot of trial and error I have found some pretty cool bars that both have great atmosphere and are easy on the pocketbook. I realized now that it would have been a lot easier to get my bearings if someone had started a list of great places for us regular folks. Thus I present the second installment in the poor hipster’s guide to nightlife.
The Bar: Skylarks
Location: The corner of Cermak and Halsted right in the shadow of 90/94
The scoop: When you walk up Skylark’s you will probably ask yourself, “Do I really want to eat here?” Truth be told from the outside this place looks rundown and washed up. It is a little corner bar with tiny windows a crumbling facade and graffiti adorning one side (the other day I may have actually saw a Banksy original). But when hunger and curiosity get the better of you, you find yourself opening the door and showing your ID to the bearded, fixed gear riding, gauged earring sporting doorman. Do not be afraid, go in and sit down I promise you will not be disappointed. Along the northern wall is a long wooden bar adorned with stools. On the south wall are four or five circular booths that you can pack up to about six people and scattered throughout the room are tables for two and tables for four.
The decor is… well it’s kinda like someone raided their grandpa’s attic and just put a bunch of old stuff on the walls. Near the door there is a slightly elevated stage with some couches a coffee table and a magazine rack with an ancient rifle above it on the wall. Over the bar are several masonic looking banners. Everywhere the walls are littered with old pictures, and shelves are piled with trophies, knick knacks and awesome vintage junk. There is even a vintage photo booth set aside in one corner.
Perhaps the coolest part of the atmosphere is the people who visit Skylarks. It is a great bar to people watch, and on any given day you will find artists scribbling in note books, students studying over in a corner both, and established businessmen who have just come in to have a drink after work. There are the neighborhood bar flies, and even a few vintage hipsters, last week I saw a seventy year old man a red velvet blazer (I can only hope to be that baller one day). And of course you will find musicians. Skylarks being appropriately named after a Jazz standard, is a swinging jazz bar on Monday nights. On Mondays the bar will be packed with Jazz enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels. You’ll see elderly beat poets, and old Louisiana bluesmen sharing a booth with young pseudo-intellectual college grads and card-carrying, Macbook toting, hipsters, mustaches decked out in full regalia. The Jazz is good and more importantly its free that’s right, NO DOOR FEES.
The beer list is great, upwards of 20 beers on tap and another 20-30 bottled. Looking for something dark and creamy? Get an Old Rasputin. Something a little more summery? Try the original sin hard cider. This place has a fairly large selection of beers but more importantly every beer they serve is a winner.
The food menu is kinda small consisting of about six entrees, eight appetizers/sides, and additionally there is a white board on the wall with specials and seasonal foods. While the menu is not all that large it is pretty varied. Looking for a small snack? Try the fried potato and cheese pierogi with sour cream and homemade apple sauce. Friend is a vegetarian? Order the roasted eggplant sandwich. Personally I suggest trying the pulled pork (one of my favorite sandwiches in the Chicago area). When you order you will have your choice between mixed greens and tater tots, and trust me, go for the tots. I mean, its kind of a thing and to tell you the truth nothing compliments a beer like tots. Try it with their homemade BBQ and you will swear off fries completely.
Rating: I would rate this bar at 3.5-4 our of 5 stars just as a really cool neighborhood bar with great food and a good drink selection. Add on top of that the use of breakfast potatoes to accompany beer and the fact that you get free music, in a city of door fees and you are looking at a solid 4.5 stars.