Wrigleyville is like a drunk eclipse. Stare directly at its center—Wrigley Field's Captain Morgan Club or the bleachers—and risk personal injury. It's sometimes marginally safer to stay around its periphery, where an entire neighborhood of bars beckons both pre- and post-game fans. But with whole blocks packed with blue-and-white-clad drinkers, where does one find the iconic Cubs experience? With honorable mentions to neighborhood favorites The Gingerman Tavern, Nisei Lounge and Sheffield's, we present the triangle of essential Cubs watering holes: The Cubby Bear, The Sports Corner and Murphy's Bleachers. firstname.lastname@example.org @redeyeeatdrink
1059 W. Addison St. 773-327-1662
Looks like: A cavernous, slightly labyrinthine bar with a small stage
Smells like: Ketchup and fries, if you get close enough to tables
Sounds like: Conversations over pulsating basslines
Holding court over the packed intersection of Clark and Addison streets, this 30,000-plus square foot bar is nearly as recognizable as the field itself. The facade's neon ticker scrolls through upcoming musical acts, but on game days, the space is packed with fans fueling up before the game. That takes the form of beer in clear plastic cups (I went with a $6 Goose Island Endless IPA), mixed drinks in the same vessels, plus some of the most unexpectedly well-seasoned fries ($5) I've had in a while. An hour before first pitch, the two main bars on the first floor are busy, but there are plenty of bartenders and both food and drinks arrive with impressive efficiency. Clearly, these guys are pros.
952 W. Addison St. 773-929-1441
Looks like: Two floors of bars surrounded by TVs, plus a rooftop
Smells like: Semi-fresh air, if you're on the roof
Sounds like: Drink orders and the TV broadcast of the game
The Sports Corner, like other bars with multiple floors, is a layer cake. The first floor is the sturdy base: Tons of TVs, so many that you really can't turn without facing the game, plus ample tables for groups and a long, wood-framed bar. Standard. The second floor offers a new flavor: More sunlight from the floor-to-ceiling windows and fewer frenzied fans running in and out to find their friends wandering along Sheffield Avenue. The rooftop is the icing on the cake: So close to the stadium that you can hear the national anthem, it also offers a great vantage point from which to watch pedestrians swarm toward the stadium. Beers still come in plastic cups, because some Wrigleyville realities are inescapable.
3655 N. Sheffield Ave. 773-281-5356
Looks like: A narrow, wood-and-brick interior spackled with Chicago sports memorabilia
Smells like: Fresh air, when the doors are open
Sounds like: The game broadcast, overheard conversations
When you walk into Murphy's Bleachers, you're walking into a bar whose original 1930s incarnation sold beer by the pail. It's gone through several ownership and name changes since then, but has been in Murphy family hands since the 1980s. Fast forward to the present and the bar is a neighborhood fixture known for its summertime patios (both front and rooftop), and its prime location in the bleachers' shadows. Murphy's serves up good craft beer--recently I spotted Half Acre's Akari Shogun American wheat ale and Three Floyds' Arctic Panzer Wolf imperial IPA ($8 each) on draft--from the same bar stocked with whipped cream vodka. It's part of the aim-to-please attitude I saw from the staff, who tried to accommodate both Blackhawks and Cubs fans' requests for TV time. When the Cubs win, celebrating fans spill out of Wrigley and mingle with those leaving Murphy's ... just don't expect it to happen as often as Cubs fans would like.