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A taste of old Chicago: The package stores and the Loop Tavern & Tap Room

Loop Tavern   Tap Room 1610 W. Chicago Ave. | Dave Hoekstra~Sun-Times Media

Loop Tavern & Tap Room, 1610 W. Chicago Ave. | Dave Hoekstra~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:47PM

You don’t hear Salvation Army bells or a chorus of goodwill from patrons at the Loop Tavern & Tap Room, 1610 W. Chicago Ave.

But when the cold wind shoots down Chicago Avenue and a passing couple reminds you of where you have been, well, you need a place to go.

As Bears fans gather in Chicago watering holes to cheer the Grabowskis, the folks at the Loop toast the Bukowskis.

I’ve lived in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood for years. I may have run into the Loop once or twice to pick up package liquor, but I never had a drink in the bar in the back of the anti-establishment. I spent a bit of a recent Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Loop. I heard Guns n’ Roses and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” I listened to come-ons and takeoffs.

I shot a photo of a vintage sign promoting cigarettes at 23 cents a pack that Loop owner Tony Kontos salvaged from an the old Braverman’s Cafeteria at Ashland and Chicago. A nearby guy drank Jack Daniel’s from a wide glass. He looked up and said, “You seem shady, dude.” He said I reminded him of the Jack Bauer counter-terrorist character on the TV show “24,” and praised the Loop for opening at 8 a.m. His buddy moved away from me.

God rest these merry gentlemen.

There used to be more noir places like the Loop around Chicago. I miss them.

A public telephone remains on the wall by the men’s bathroom. There are zero Christmas decorations, but there are two nice flat-screen TV sets. The walls of the Loop are lined with oak as hard as the livers of the regulars. Kontos built the back bar, which holds hundreds and hundreds bottles of booze. On Saturday night you could fetch a Bacardi Hurricane for $2 on the rocks. No one cared much about that.

About 10 people were in the bar on that night, a mix of Hispanics and old hippies with beards. The Ukrainian fellow next to me synchronized his drinking with trips to the package liquor section to buy scratch-off lottery tickets. He would return, scratch off the card to unearth some unclaimed happiness, shake his head and take a swig from his bottle of Miller Lite.

The Loop is the kind of place where you don’t really want to look anyone in the eye.

Younger people than those who drink here call these tavern and package liquor stores “slashies” (bar/liquor store). The tavern portion is brightly lit, with seven high powered lamps hanging over the bar. I imagine this is done to keep trouble at a minimum. It’s like drinking at work.

I was always curious why the Loop was located nowhere near the Loop.

“I had a Loop bar at State and Congress,” Kontos said. “It burned down and I came here six months later (in 1988). It’s a hassle to change the name. You gotta go down to the city, I don’t want all that attention.” Kontos doesn’t talk a lot, at least to reporters.

The Loop was formerly Scottie’s Liquors. Kontos remodeled the entire place. Last year he repaired and repainted the original tin ceiling.

The Loop is a cash-only dive. “We’re thinking of getting credit cards,” he said as a customer bought a bottle of cheap Champagne. “A lot of so-called yuppies are moving in the neighborhood.” The Loop is open from 8 a.m. until midnight except on Friday and Saturday when it is open until 2 a.m. “I see no need to stay open late during the week,” Kontos said. “You never can tell.”

I told a couple friends I was going to stop in the Loop and they shuddered. I did not say Roots, the trendy pizza restaurant a few blocks west.

The Loop has the misfortune of being near a bunch of empty buildings. The old Hub Theater is next door and has been closed since the 1990s. The building has been vacant for several years.

Around 11 p.m., I went into the ATM across the street from the Loop to fetch drinking money. A man was passed out and curled up on the cold lobby floor. His pants were soiled. A group of young people stood outside the lobby waiting for a bus, smiling and taking selfies. I turned around and saw the pretty streetscape snowflakes of Chicago Avenue. One large snowflake eclipsed the retro Loop sign that advertised $2 shots or beers. Something was in the air, yet the Loop is so incredibly down to earth.


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