2532 W. Chicago Ave. (800N, 2500W)
Chicago, IL 60622
"Eat early, late, great"
Editor's Note: in 2009, the Black Beetle was bought and (slightly) renamed Beetle Bar & Grill.
Like its cousin tavern, California Clipper, the arrival of the Black Beetle Bar & Grill gives the new bohemians of Humboldt Park a regular place to hang. A good selection of bellywash, board and tunes, draws loyalty from the neighborhood as well as the more adventurous from around the city – just as the ownership's other offering, the Northside, draws the black leather jacketed crowd of Wicker Park. Local restaurateur Cyril Landise has done a great job with the Black Beetle in creating a classic Chicago saloon, which is a far cry from all the mock-Irish pubs and sports bar/New York lounge hybrids going up all over the place.
The Black Beetle can be found on a lonely stretch of Chicago Avenue, on the northwest corner at Rockwell, and across from a facility that recycles wooden palettes. The bar is housed within the base of a classic Chicago brownstone, three story building, and can be spotted easily at night with its large neon sign with "BEETLE" lettering in bright blue, which reminds me of the Black Rock further north. By day, "BLACK BEETLE" is more visible, printed in gold lettering upon a black-painted, wooden façade.
Since it opened, the metal grating has come off the plate-glass windows overlooking both Chicago and Rockwell, which makes the place a lot more appealing from the outside. Step through the plate glass door and you'll find a warm atmosphere within. A mix of hardwood and red & black linoleum stretches through both sides of the bar, as does the tin ceiling. Low-slung tables with red candleholders can be found in the front section of the room and is the best spot if you're there to eat. Otherwise, head to the wooden bar that runs long the west side of the room, where you'll find patrons perched in high-backed, black metal stools. Behind the bar, an impressive array of booze is set in front of mirrors and under a classic wooden bar back with beveled glass back-lit in red to match the string lights. In summer, a tiny sidewalk café offers beer drinking al fresco.
For connoisseurs of ale, the Black Beetle offers a strong, but somewhat overrated selection. The Black Beetle Stout, a favorite in colder times, is juxtaposed with Allegash Belgium White on draft, along with Hobgoblin, Staropramen, Stella Artois and Vienna Lager, all of which is dispensed from an ornate brass fixture. The usual suspects can be found in bottles, and all of the above are detailed on a large chalkboard hanging over the kitchen at the north end of the room. Speaking of food, the Black Beetle serves up an inexpensive selection of appetizers referred to as "Beetle Bites," consisting of wings and what you'll normally find elsewhere. You can also order "The Big Salad" with chicken, tuna or feta cheese, chili (recommended by many, although I've never had the pleasure), burgers (half pound, turkey, garden and "burger of the day"), and a couple of sandwiches. The Black Beetle is open for lunch daily, starting at 11:30am during the week and noon on weekends.
Once sated, you can have a go on the purple-felted pool table, which lies under a tasseled lamp that makes Liar's Club and Lincoln Tap Room patrons homesick, and is free on Sundays. This, along with a Golden Tee machine can be found in the blue, green and maroon-painted room opposite the bar area, located around an exposed brick wall divider with portals similar to the ones found at Bricks. The pool room also features local artwork for sale, like a giant "Cerveza Aguila" mural that I spotted one night. Though the bar does not serve Aguila, I've actually had this Colombian brew when I visited Cartagena and subsequently attacked by a sloth, but that, dear readers, is another story.
Simultaneous sloth and Cerveza Aguila beer vendor attack in Cartagena
The Black Beetle is also known for playing an excellent selection of music, courtesy of both a well-stocked jukebox and a DJ with two turntables and a microphone that would make Beck proud. If that weren't enough, each day of the week brings with it a different drink special along with a changing blend of musical entertainment:
All of the above attracts a fairly scruffy post-Ukie Village crowd, clad mostly in jeans, t-shirts, loungewear, and sporting a mellow disposition. Some, like the twats once known as the "Ugly Mugs," may chide the Black Beetle for not drawing more ladies, but I've found this to be no different from any other corner neighborhood bar during the week. On weekends, the Black Beetle is pumpin' and attracts plenty of the fairer sex. While Humboldt Park is getting better, I still recommend you drive to the bar, as you won't find a cab on the street, parking is generally plentiful and the 'hood is still pretty rough compared to most other parts of the North Side. If you need to grab some cash, you can find an ATM with Black Beetle logo (though in red) next to the tavern. Just watch your back, Jack.
Though black beetles are not what you would necessarily want to see or think about, when you're hungry or longing for a pint, the "Black Beetle" should be – particularly if you live in Humboldt Park or are looking for a new favorite watering hole. When the Black Beetle opened around the turn of the Millennium, it was awarded "Best New Bar" by Newcity Chicago and has been going strong ever since. They even have their very own Black Beetlemobile, a black-painted Plymouth Cruiser with scarab logo. For more information, including menu and list of specials, check out the Black Beetle website, and remember: "One beetle recognizes another" (Irish proverb).
"Drink, Eat, Drink"
From the Black Beetle website: "The black beetle is meant to evoke multiple cultural icons:
1) the shadowy, slightly seamy and creative urban underground,
2) the scarab beetle, the most sacred symbol of ancient Egypt calling upon forces beyond our control, and
3) for the esoteric music fans there is the reference to Billy Preston as the 5th Beatle...
"The Black Beetle will ease your mind."