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Treating Fans Right — For the pennant race, visit Bridgeport, where the bars are the real thing

Bernice Badauskas Bernice's Tavern 3238 S. Halsted St Chicago holds White Sox plaque clock celebrating Sox' World Series victory thwas

Bernice Badauskas of Bernice's Tavern at 3238 S. Halsted St in Chicago holds a White Sox plaque and clock celebrating the Sox' World Series victory that was given to her. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 7, 2012 6:12PM

A funny thing happened rounding third on the way to home.

The White Sox built a new ballpark, and much of the old-school flavor of the Bridgeport neighborhood was retained.

Across town, the Cubs market tradition and the Wrigleyville neighborhood has turned into an upscale Disney World for Dizzy Deans of drinking.

Which is why Bridgeport is a more interesting place to hang out during a baseball game; the scene is more down-to-earth. And the White Sox are floating in rarefied air as they make a compelling push for a playoff spot.

I’m a lifelong Cubs fan. Bridgeport reminds me of my mid-1970s days of drinking around Wrigley after suffering through the likes of Champ Summers and George “The Baron” Mitterwald. Lake View bars like Ray’s Bleachers and Bernie’s were cheap, dark and had even darker character. Late Bernie’s owner Donnie Dillman actually would close the door to his tavern when he felt it got too crowded. Can you imagine any barkeep around Wrigleyville doing that today?

It still happens around Bridgeport, specifically at Bernice’s Tavern (a k a Bernice’s Buzzer Bar), 3238 S. Halsted.

Owner Steve Badauskas still deploys the front-door buzzer to keep out riff-raff. His brother Mike tends bar when he is not working security at O’Hare Airport.

“The buzzer went in during the 1970s,” Mike Badauskas said before a recent Sox-Yankees game. “The International Amphitheatre was down the street, and it was a hot zone. Everybody had buzzers. We just left ours on. We have blue-collar types who are not cutting loose so much as they are relaxing. Wrigleyville is more like they’re going to New Orleans.”

Ballpark vendors and hardcore fans have flocked to Bernice’s like pigeons on an old wire.

Cubs/White Sox beer vendor Bob Shaw, 50, is celebrating his 30th year in the business.

“The South Side is how the North Side used to be,” said Shaw, a devotee of Bernice’s.

Bernice’s matriarch Bernice Badauskas recalled, “When the White Sox were in the World Series we put up a sign that said Cubs fans had to pay a dollar to come in. It was a joke. Nobody asked them for money. But they gave us their dollars.”

Some regulars park in front of Bernice’s, and Mike Badauskas feeds the parking meter for them while they go to the game. “Holy Cow!,” as the late Cubs-White Sox announcer Harry Caray would say.

I still take out-of-towners to Schaller’s Original Pump, 3714 S. Halsted, (773) 376-6332, which has the second- or third-oldest liquor license in the city; fourth-generation owner Jay Schaller isn’t sure.

The 131-year-old tavern has been across the street from the 11th Ward Democratic headquarters for more than 60 years. The Pump’s dim lights and tin ceiling warmed many of former Mayor Richard J. Daley’s victory celebrations.

Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, 960 W. 31st St., is not a sports bar, and they don’t have televisions. But Maria’s does stock more than 400 different beers, more than any bar in Chicago. Maria’s — named after owner Maria Marszewski — has cutting-edge DJs who are far more interesting than the loud folk singer who stands in the corner at Trace, 3714 N. Clark, (773- 477-3400; just north of Wrigley Field. I’ve been going to Trace for the past several years, and I can’t take it anymore. The music is miserable, and I can’t hear Freddie the Bleacher Creature. (Trace does have one of the few late-night licenses in Wrigleyville.)

Bernice’s suffers when the Sox lose.

“If they win, we get the customers,” Steve said, standing in front of an original painting of Adam’s daughter-in-law that has been preserved on the south wall. “If they lose everybody goes home.” Steve has a deep, radio talk-show voice. He has only attended two Cubs games at Wrigley Field — although he recently auditioned for the Wrigley Field announcer gig.

Bernice’s has regular Wednesday night bingo and serves Lithuanian Svyturis (translated: lighthouse or enlightenment) Extra bottled beer for only $5. How Bridgeport is that?

And free live music is presented from the back of the bar — just like the Wrigleyville Tap used to do on occasion. Dan Whitaker and the Shinebenders play free country-rock the first Saturday of the month. Accordion player Eddie Krueger was Bernice’s house band during the late 1960s. Bernice recalled, “He never took his accordion home because it was too heavy, and sometimes he had too much too drink. He would chain it to the leg of the table. Maybe he didn’t trust us.”

The walk around U.S. Cellular is more truthful than the walk to Wrigley Field.

The last several years I park for free at 29th and Canal and walk to the Cell. I stop for a moment at the World War II Victory Garden on Canal. U.S. Army soldier Eric Lill is the latest addition after being killed in Iraq. On a good day, long-time neighborhood residents are sitting on their front porches or conversing on lawn chairs in front of their garages. On a good day around Wrigley I have to dodge drunks playing hacky sack on the sidewalk.

Once in a while Bernice’s will serve free gourmet-style food on the sidewalk.

“My girlfriend, Dori is an amazing cook,” Steve Badauskas said with an old-school Henry Kaminski Wholesalers (sausage, pork boners) calendar in the background. “She’s made lobster ravioli. Homemade pasta.” He glanced at the calendar. “That’s her dad.”

Jonas Badauskas died in 1998. Bernice is retired but still pops into the bar now and then.

“When my Dad passed, he had outlived all his regulars,” Steve Badauskas said. “It felt there were no customers for three years, but this is what we do. Now we have more artist types and less Bridgeport types although there are still some standbys. It seems people have gotten nicer. Back in the day people thought they could get away with drinking and be loud.” But silence is golden for any baseball fan who wants to sit down, hoist a cold one and discuss the essence of a Chicago pennant race.

You just can’t do that around Wrigley Field.

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