Updated: December 30, 2013 11:22AM
Things are always looking up at Mr. C’s Midway Bar.
Mr. C’s, at 4654 W. 63rd St., is arguably one of the closest neighborhood bars to a major American airport. It sits three blocks south of Midway International Airport and directly under an airport landing pattern.
“Sometimes we can see the faces of the passengers and pilots in the plane,” said owner Andy Chilmon.
Mr. C’s Midway Bar is authentically South Side. The front room is framed by dark plywood and the back room features an old pool table. Dennis Lick, former Bears offensive tackle (1976-81), lives in the neighborhood and pops in now and then. Mr. C’s holds about 50 people, with a dozen bar stools along the east bar.
No worries about running into any snotty French fliers at Mr. C’s on this travel weekend since it is below 59th Street, the warning boundary recently declared by the French Consulate in Chicago. “We do have flight attendants, ramp agents, the baggage guys from all the airlines,” Chilmon said.
I presume the pilots come to Mr. C’s after work.
Chilmon, 49, is a down-to-earth Chicago guy. The son of Polish immigrants, he was born and raised in Back of the Yards and lived in Brighton Park and West Lawn, the Midway neighborhood. Chilmon has had the bar for 17 years.
“Actually, I bought the bar with the name Mr. C’s from a friend of mine, who named it after his uncle,” he said. “But it has been a bar since the mid-1940s. At one point a pilot from Midway Airlines owned it and it was a hangout for people who worked at Midway.” A west wall of fame includes a framed montage of Midway Airlines boarding passes and baggage tags. There are vintage black and white photos of planes landing at Midway, a.k.a. “The World’s Busiest Square Mile.”
Mr. C’s was Chilmon’s first foray into the tavern business. He had been a bank teller and delivered butter, eggs and cheese to bakeries and hotels.
He knows about being in a jam. “People often come in and say, ‘We got stuck in Chicago,’ ” Chilmon said. “I tell them you’re never ‘stuck’ in Chicago. ‘Stuck’ is a negative word. I say, ‘You’ve been delayed in Chicago.’ There’s plenty of things to do. Blizzards — always a lot of fun. Flight crews know when the airport is shut down they can’t be called for at least a day. It’s like a day off from school. It becomes an all-day affair in here.”
The greatest surprise at Mr. C’s is to see the touching shrine in the back room that Chilmon made for his friend, the late Chicago Bulls coach and announcer Johnny “Red” Kerr. The effervescent graduate of Tilden Tech died in 2009 at the age of 76. Chilmon was a pallbearer at Kerr’s funeral.
“A friend of his who was a Chicago police officer that worked Midway airport brought Red here,” Chilmon said. “It was about three years after Red’s wife passed away. (His beloved Betty died in 2000). I introduced him to his girlfriend so that’s when he started really liking me.” Former Bulls guard/announcer Norm Van Lier died on the same day as Kerr. “Norm came in her once because he was emceeing the 63rd Street Christmas parade,” Chilmon said. “Duane (bartender for the past 14 years) is working. Norm goes, ‘Tell Red I’m in his neck of the woods today!’ ”
The memorial shrine has a photo of Kerr singing karaoke at a retirement party for pilot Conrad Olson. The Southwest Airlines pilot used to live above Mr. C’s. There are pictures of a smiling Kerr in a Hawaiian shirt at Sloppy Joe’s and the Flying Monkey in Key West.
I knew Kerr. He was as fine a man as you would want to meet. The Mr. C’s shrine honors Kerr’s merry nature.
“I don’t really advertise this or anything,” Chilmon said as he looked at the “Red” wall. “It’s more of a personal thing for me.”
The personal thing will get you far at this neighborhood bar.
Mr. C’s is open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. seven days a week; (773) 582-0833. There are snacks but no lunch.
E mail: Dhoekstra@suntimes.com