From the sports bars of Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park to the trendy clubs of the Gold Coast and West Loop, Chicago is known for its diverse drinking culture. When trying to navigate your way through the road map of the Chicago bar scene look to Chicago's Old Town neighborhood. Located at the corner of North and Wieland, the Old Town Ale House has been a staple among Chicago's bohemian community since 1958. Artists, musicians, writers and Second City improv greats have all shared a brew within these walls. And although the thick, luminous clouds of cigarette smoke are now absent from the interior of this Old Town tavern, the jazz-only jukebox, old style on tap and worn stools are still the same. The Ale House is more than a bar, it is a Chicago establishment.
The artwork of the bar differs greatly in contrast to the nearby galleries of the River North district. Owner Bruce Elliott's paintings line the walls in true French salon-style. Portraits of Ale House regulars hang alongside those of Roger Ebert, Dan Akroyd and Gilda Radner. Group portraits feature some nefarious characters in very compromising situations, the latest additions including impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich awaiting a cavity search and a gun toting nude Sarah Palin. Elliot has said to have received no formal training, but found influence growing up from magical realist painter Gertrude Abercrombie, who lived on Chicago's South Side.
When an Irish pub is present on nearly every block in the city, and bottle service at a club seems to be the norm, it is great to escape to this Old Town destination. To quote Elliott's Moulin Rouge-esque painting, this is "Le Premier Dive Bar Chicago."
--Robyn Farrell Roulo
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