1935 N. Damen Ave. (2000N, 2000W)
Chicago, IL 60647
Editor's Note: Though it recently opened and may be too soon to declare, it appears that the credit crunch may have preempted the bacon crunch: Chinaski's Bar closed and is now "6 Degrees."
Literary readings, poetry and music
Literature and alcohol go together like paper and ink. Faulkner knew it. Hemingway knew it, and yet there are too few literate and literary bars on the Chicago scene. So, it is with great pleasure that I tip my keyboard and welcome Chinaski's to the Bucktown neighborhood.
Opened in the summer of '08 on the former site of Whiskey Road (and before that Darwin's), Chinaski's makes no overt attempts to brand the place as a literary bar, though Henry Chinaski was the alter-ego of the cult writer and prodigious drinker, Charles Bukowski. Miss that oblique reference and from the outside Chinaski's might just look like "another Polish bar," as Matt the bartender told me. Inside, don't expect to see any shrines to the late writer. Chinaski's is as understated and unpretentious from within as it is from the street.
Two antique typewriters, hanging from the wall, offer only a hint of Chinaski's substance. A bank of mailboxes behind the bar allows writers a chance to keep a personal P.O. Box for correspondence. The interior is cozy, with a small bar set to one side of the narrow rectangular room and a handful of tables along the opposite wall and front windows. The windows open to the street in fair weather. Exposed brick walls, largely unadorned, add a sense of warmth and intimacy. The reading room, set in back, serves as the bar's heart and soul.
The first Monday of every month, Chinaski's pays homage to it's predecessors by offering all-you-can eat bacon* (angioplasty not included), but the bar's ongoing literary events are what truly set Chinaski's apart. Published authors are regularly scheduled to give readings and to sign copies of their books, so check the Chinaski's website for specific dates. Every Wednesday Chinaski's hosts a Literary Open-Mic, which goes far beyond the familiar poetry readings that can be found throughout the city. Expect to hear short stories, monologues, random musings and novel excerpts delivered by a diverse group of writers. It offers a one-of-a-kind chance for local prose writers to share their work and to support their peers in what is largely a lonely pursuit. Chinaski's is closed on both Sundays and Tuesdays.
"'All true religions have to have some monthly faith meeting,' says one employee, when asked about the purpose of the bottomless bacon bowl."
– excerpt from Lisa Donovan's Sun-Times article "Does bacon get any better than this?"
(November 5, 2008)
Chinaski's menu, which can only be described as eclectic, is the only conceit to its literary underpinnings. You can start with a Sedaris and then move on to the Norman Mailer. The adventurous might want to try the William S. Burroughs sandwich, which consists of peanut butter, mango chutney, red cabbage and mayo. I'm told the sandwich is delicious and a bestseller, but my unnatural fear of mayonnaise precludes me from giving this one a try.
The beer list is not extensive, but does cater to both low and high tastes. Old Style is available by the can, Spanish Peak's Summer White by the bottle. Two varieties of Bell's are among those available on tap and Chinaski's may be the only non-Japanese restaurant in the city to have Sapporo on draft. For a bit of whimsy, Chinaski's offers a monthly rotation of mystery beer. I was stumped as to what I was drinking, but it was cold, tasted fine and for $3 a pint who cares?
As for Bukowski, he may be best known as the writer of the semi-autobiographical 1987 film Barfly. If you've seen that film, but have never read anything by Bukowski, I strongly recommend the novel that it spawned, Hollywood, which tells the hilarious and mostly fictional tale of the behind the scenes making of the film and Henry Chinaski's heroic efforts to drink every last dime of his advance before the film is made.
"Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink."
– Charles Bukowski
In a city full of bar clones and fad-jumpers, Chinaski's truly stands out as an original. It's laid-back and friendly vibe, from both staff and customers, is reminiscent of places like the Ten Cat Tavern, Map Room and the long gone Augenblick. Here's hoping that Chinaski's has many chapters between now and The End. For more information, check out the Chinaski's Bar website.
* Editor's Note: clearly, we as a society, have failed to learn from the lessons of dearly departed Prodigal Son, in relation to all-you-can-eat-bacon.
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– written by Randy Kohl