Lori Rackl: “Chicago Fire’s” bar set a lot like Bucktown’s Lotties
By LORI RACKL TV Critic May 9, 2014 9:40PM
Updated: June 12, 2014 6:15AM
A Bucktown bar called Lotties used to double as Molly’s Pub, the favorite watering hole of the firefighters and paramedics on “Chicago Fire.” ¶ The NBC drama built its own Molly’s at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios this season, which has its finale at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WMAQ-Ch. 5. ¶ “It’s crazy accurate, except it doesn’t stink like old booze and beer,” actor David Eigenberg said about the re-created Molly’s. His character, Christopher Herrmann, co-owns the pub with a few others from Firehouse 51. “I might shake up some Pabst Blue Ribbon and spray it all over the place.”
The bar is a reproduction of the one at Lotties, but this is built in modular sections on wheels so camera crews can move it. Actor Mike Starr (Arthur) started a fire on the bar in this season’s episode six, when the show began using the Molly’s Pub set. “There was a big rush to get this done so we could do the fire onstage,” production designer Craig Jackson said. “We try to avoid doing real fires [inside] real locations.”
“One of the things that attracted us to Lotties originally were these Christmas lights — the twinkle lights hanging from the ceiling,” Jackson said. The cinematographer wanted them for a cozy atmosphere.
A few pictures of Soldier Field, Chicago’s ballparks and a Chicago Fire soccer team pennant are scattered around, but the Blackhawks have the biggest presence. “The NHL has been very good with our show,” Jackson said, adding that Major League Baseball and the NFL have more legal hoops to jump through. The Stanley Cup has visited Molly’s, and Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith dropped by for a conveniently timed cameo to plug the Stadium Series matchup on NBC.
Chicago visual artist Dan Grzeca of Ground Up Press created the colorful posters for numerous bands — Black Keys, Iron & Wine, Trampled by Turtles —
that hang in Molly’s.
The faux brick walls are plastic painted to look like the real deal.
At Lotties, there’s no door in front of the stairs to the basement. Set designers didn’t want to show a lower level. They built an enclosure to hide the stairwell when they filmed at Lotties and continued to use it on set.
“These car pieces are done by John Milinac, who’s our special effects coordinator,” Jackson said. “He handles all the fire and explosions for us, but he’s actually an incredible artist.” Milinac’s name also graces a fictional brand of beer at Molly’s. “He’s immortalized twice in here with the artwork and the beer labeling.”
The beer tapper at Lotties is twice as big as the one on set. That made filming tricky because it often blocked actors. Among the suds
on tap: Domaine DuPage from Two Brothers Brewing Co. in Warrenville. “The taps actually function with nonalcoholic beer,” Jackson said. TV networks don’t like giving away free advertising, so the series didn’t display branded beer in the beginning. Two-thirds of the way through the first season, the network gave “Chicago Fire” approval to strike deals with real beverage firms to place products. “We thought we must be doing OK in NBC’s eyes: We’re beer-worthy.”
The floor is solid pine, just like at Lotties. “It was built with brand-new lumber, so this was all painstakingly aged,” art director Stephanie Gilliam said. Added Jackson: “The more we film here and the more it gets abused, the better and more authentic it looks.”