Editor's note: The oddly likeable Belair Lounge, like its longtime neighbor Yak-zies, has merged with the tavern infinite, as it appears to have been swallowed up by Duffy's.
There are popular bars in the city and there are lesser-known establishments. The Belair Lounge is as close to "unknown" as you're going to find, even for those that live around the corner and for those that write bar reviews in Chicago for a living. Here at the Chicago Bar Project, we love places like the Belair – places that are just as good as many others but have not achieved any degree of popularity except for those regulars that call these places their home away from home. The Belair is a bar like that. It's attractiveness may be limited, but those that go there love it.
The Belair Lounge can be found on Diversey, in-between Pine Grove and Sheridan. The bar is actually nestled in the base of the transient Belair Hotel, next door to Duffy's, just down the street from Yak-zies, and across from one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Pars Cove. Step through the glass door of the Belair and you'll find a narrow, single room storefront space with plate glass windows overlooking Diversey. A wooden bar with a stone top runs almost the entire length of the eastern wall, behind which lies a bevy of booze housed within three wooden arches with mirrored backs and adorned with some form of wintry/dead plants in vases and an ancient metal cash register. The ceiling consists of a few, thick oak beams crisscrossing a green-painted cement surface that matches the floor.
They have three beers on tap at Belair: Budweiser, Guinness and Miller Lite, all of which are cheap. I paid $6 once for a Bud draft and a Ketel One and soda – very unusual for this part of town. Grab a stool of the padded wooden variety at the bar or at one of the few cocktail tables up front, each with bench seating. You'll find more tables down the side of the room next to off-white wooden paneling upon which hang several black & white photographs of movie stars. A photo collage of patrons and staff is mounted upon the wall within a rather intimate hovel located just beyond the bar, where a solitary cocktail table provides an almost private space except when the bartender needs to grab a t-shirt (on sale for only $12) or supplies from a tiny storage area located in the northeast corner of the room. At the end of the western wall is a wall-mounted jukebox just before a door that leads to the rather nice lobby of the Belair, through which you'll need to go to get to the old-school, ceramic-tiled johns located straight through the lobby.
Belair doesn't serve food so I recommend heading over to Pars Cove if you're hungry, and especially if you're with a date. In fact, Pars Cove has one of the best deals going in the city: $25 per person for a four course meal, consisting of lentil soup, choice of two appetizers, choice of two entrées, two bottles of wine, and vanilla ice cream with honey. The food is excellent. I recommend the Chilean sea bass and the lamb with pomegranate sauce.
The Belair seems to appeal mainly to unpretentious, middle-aged locals with a bit of a Bohemian slant, most of whom live in one of the high-rises nearby that overlook Lincoln Park. The crowd is kind of like what you'll find over at the Zebra Lounge, though Belair has no piano. The bar opens at 8:00am Monday through Wednesday and 7:00am Thursday through Sunday, the latter presumably being so you can stop in for that much needed pint before church. For entertainment, you can watch the Bar 1 pub crawls arrive and depart from Duffy's next door, wobbling more and more as the night wears on.
"The most important thing you'll find here is Guinness for $2.50 a pint, delivered with a shamrock poured into the foam by a cheerfully surly bartender who's going to give you shit, but not so much that it'll piss you off. And you'll drink that Guinness in the company of real drinkers, regulars who've been drinking together for a while now and aren't against fighting each other from time to time, like true family."
The Belair may not be the best bar in Chicago, but it's one of the more intriguing hotel bars I've run across in this fair city and a good one to check out when you feel like a different change of pace. As you head out after a night of (quiet) revelry at the Belair, note what it says on the chalkboard above the north end of the bar: "Six packs to go for sale here." Now that's old-school.