Packers fan Bryce Lehman (left), wearing a “throwback” Packer jersey from 1929, shares a beer with Bears fan Jim Meyers at Will’s Northwoods Inn on North Racine Avenue. The bar is a home away from home for Wisconsin folk and Packers fans. | Rich Hein~Sun-
A Packers bar may sound about as welcome in Chicago as ketchup on a hotdog.
But cheeseheads, it turns out, like to stick together when they’re in enemy territory.
And that makes Will’s Northwoods Inn — the city’s preeminent Packers bar in Lake View since it opened 20 years ago — a veritable fondue pot of Wisconsinites come playoff time.
“They were standing in line down the block during the Falcons game, still trying to get in during the third-quarter,” manager Kevin Kruse said of the Packers victory last Saturday.
“Sunday is going to be crazy.”
With beer-battered cheese curds, brats, 18 types of beer on tap, Norwegian flags, stuffed badgers, moose heads and pre-Viking Brett Favre memorabilia plastered on the walls, the bar at 3030 North Racine is a home-from-home for members of the Green Bay diaspora.
“Every day though the week we live our lives in this city and we have our colleagues say ‘How about dem Bears?’ but when we come here, this is our house,” said Bryce Lehman, 29.
“The atmosphere is incredible.”
A committed Packers fan, Lehman grew up in Racine but is a law student at DePaul. His wife, Julie, made a green Packers hat for a stuffed turtle that’s mounted on the wall behind the bar next to the stool where Lehman always sits.
Bears fans who venture in looking for trouble are treated “with respect” he said, adding, “But if Chicago wins on Sunday, it’s going to be a long walk home in my cheesehead.”
Though the bar will likely be full long before kick-off this weekend, on Thursday reporters outnumbered Packers fans by a ratio of 10-to-1 as Will’s enjoyed its moment in the spotlight. As if to prove the point, Kruse interrupted an interview with a camera crew from Wisconsin to point to a TV above the bar, on which injured Packer tight end Jermichael Finley was telling an ESPN reporter he planned to watch the game at Will’s.
The attention was bemusing to neighborhood regular Jim Meyers, a 38-year-old contractor and Bears fan.
“Packers fans aren’t usually here during the week,” he said, thumbing his Bears cap. “And anyway, they’re normal people — it’s not like they’re ---holes.
After reflecting for a moment, he added, “The fans aren’t, but the players are.”