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Why the California Clipper Just Might Be the Very Best Bar in Chicago
by Mia DiMeo

History: Slightly off the beaten path at 1002 N. California Ave., the space was originally a movie theater between 1912-18, but closed down because of the “killer flu epidemic at the end of World War I.” After that, it reopened as the California Clipper Tavern in the late 1930s. The ambiance is made by late-Deco features, like the curvy wooden bar and crimson lighting that falls somewhere between horror movie and whorehouse. Red vinyl booths, each with their own strange landscape paintings, complete  the ideal interior for conversation and libations.

Spirits and a spirit: The Clipper has cheap, strong drinks and the recipe for their own specialty cocktail, the “Purple Martin,” somehow involves grape soda. I repeatedly avoid it for Whiskey Gingers, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take advantage of this unnaturally colored drink. If that’s not enough for you, a perfume-wearing ghost haunts the Clipper!

Cowboys: There are no televisions at the Clipper, so go watch your damn sports somewhere else. Fridays, Saturdays and the occasional Thursday, you can hear live music from bands with descriptions such as “working man’s classic country,” and “delta blues meets 1963 garage band.” There’s never a cover, and people wear cowboy shirts and sometimes hats without a hint of irony. There’s a dance floor, and the bartenders are friendlier than average. One of them even knows my name. What more do you want? A letter to Oprah, found in one of the booths?

For more information, check out the Clipper’s hilariously designed, somewhat outdated website.


-Mia DiMeo, ArtSlant Staff Writer




Posted by Mia DiMeo on 1/31/11

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Love, love, love the Clipper - Brandy Alexanders for me! And who wouldn't love a bar with board games, rocking country, blues, and the tamale guy lurking near by...?

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