Ode to a Chicago Dive Bar
Posted on January 3, 2012
Mickey’s Tavern – corner of Medill and Leavitt, Bucktown
UPDATE: The bar’s day’s are numbered. It’s been sold. But as of April ’14 you can still get a beer from the one tap and get sworn at by Tommy the bartender.
The following story is based on a chat with a neighbor, who’ll I’ll call Max, who was in the neighborhood long before me and told me a little bit about the dive bar at the end of the block.
Max’s first night at Mickey’s was after he signed the lease for his new apartment. To celebrate he stopped in with a friend and met several of the characters he would come to know well, including the bartender on duty that night, Elmer. “Trouble at the pass” soon became Elmer’s welcoming phrase whenever Max walked in with friends. Elmer liked to drink Maker’s Mark and Max often helped him stock the bar at closing time. After that Elmer would join the Max’s gang for a pub crawl at several other bars within walking distance.
Max’s favorite memories of Mickey’s include the eclectic jukebox (that was rarely on) where you could find tunes by Bobby Darin, The Scorpions, and Erasure.
Russian Annie – one of the older customers Max helped waltz home during a blizzard.
Chester – “The Mayor of Bucktown,” an old man who always sat at little table against the wall.
Pearl – the senior citizen foul-mouthed White Sox fan who could drink you under the table and kick you in the ass while doing so.
Lance the accountant and a regular who soon got banned for not paying his tab.
Walking in with two bucks to his name and drinking for several hours because someone else kept buying him beer.
Those beers were usually courtesy of guys like Norm, who resembles a monk but one who drinks in Chicago, fishes in Wisconsin, and bowls everywhere in between. Once Max walked in late with Norm and another favorite bartender, Torpe, locked the doors after them and said, “I’m not kicking you out, I just don’t want any other ding-a-lings walking in.”
The first beer on Sunday was free (“your Sunday drink”) and usually served by the owner Mike’s mother.
It was a place where most people pronounced Packers quarterback Brett Favre’s last name “Favor” and where watching the Cubs’ final outs in the 2003 Championship Series was funereal-like.
Max filmed his “Survivor” audition tape inside Mickey’s. The theme was something along the lines that, if he could survive Mickey’s and the characters who inhabited it, he could survive some silly island with other assholes and Jeff “The Leprechaun” Probst. (One of the guys in the bar thought the audition for the band Survivor).
I have a friend who’s been to Mickey’s and calls it “The Bar that Time Forgot.”
I’m told if you stop by when Tommy is tending bar (try Monday nights) you’re very likely to get cursed at, or at least hear him curse at someone.