"Home of the Viking Raid"
It wasn't great, but it did have beer, and it most certainly wasn't a palace – but it most definitely was the Great Beer Palace. Being in North Center, just south of the Germanic Lincoln Square, the décor was Bavarian kitsch with an impressive selection of German and Austrian brews. As this did not necessarily differentiate if from other neighborhood joints in the area, like the Hansa Clipper, Huettenbar, and Laschet's Inn, the Palace was the only place where you could get a plastic Viking helmet and have a picture taken of you wearing it and posted to the back wall. Add to that the ability to drink beer out of a boot, enjoy ivy-filled surroundings in the beer garden, nosh on cheap and greasy munchies, and the Great Beer Palace was definitely a great place to go when you felt like going on a pub crawl but couldn't be bothered to do all the walking. Sadly, the Great Beer Palace, like Corbin's and Von Stuke's Hofbrau before it, has gone the way of Zum Deutschen Eck and the Golden Ox, having shuttered its doors in 2002. However, the memory remains like that beer-stain on your favorite t-shirt.
The Great Beer Palace was located on the southwest corner of Lincoln and Warner Avenues. Its white sign, depicting a white-bearded Viking, along with the blue-and-white, diamond checkered façade, tiny windows, and wrought iron beer sign hanging above the door, all gave subtle hints as to what was to be found inside. If you had the courage to push past the thick wooden door, three words would immediately spring to mind as you entered "The Palace": dark, drab and dingy. The sight of thick wood, worn carpets and a back wall covered with Polaroids of drunken patrons of yore all set the stage. At least the lighting was dim, so nothing was overtly scary but it did make the menu hard to read, and the hairbanger music from the juke added a South Side element. A fine cheeseball palace it was.
"On final note on the GBP and I'll let her go: Many patrons thought the name of the place was 'Open For Beer' because of the red neon sign out front. GBP RIP."
– T.K. (October 1, 2009)
As per its name, the Great Beer Palace offered a nice array of 30 Teutonic ales. Such included Tucher, König Pilsner, Paulaner Oktoberfest, Spaten Dopplebock, Gösser (Austria), Spaten, Bitburger, Beck's Dark, Erdinger Weiss, Hacker-Pschorr Weiss, Kutscher Alt, BBK Kaiser Pilsner, Kostritzer Black Beer, and BBK Marzen. Chapeu, Pilsner Urquell, and Gambrino's boot beer were thrown in for good measure. While most other German bars in the area had a similar menu of brewskies, only the Great Beer Palace had the name, and hence, the appeal to a younger, non-Germanic crowd from around the city. Now that the Great Beer Palace is closed, have no fear. Quencher's, the Map Room, Hopleaf, and Resi's Bierstube all carry the torch of a having an even wider beer selection, stretching into the 100+ realm.
On of the best parts of the Great Beer Palace's hop and barley legacy was that all of the above was served in authentic German mugs and "The Boot." A word about imbibing liquor from glass footwear: the proper way to drink from The Boot is for some devilish member of your party to order one, have it passed around until it is drained and – now this is somewhat debatable – the second to last one to finish it has to buy the next one. Some may have you believe that the last one to finish it buys the next boot, but that can prove problematic as a tiny bit of backwash could make a few rounds before some enterprising soul bites the bullet and polishes it off. The Boot held two liters of godisgood for a mere $15.00, liters would set you back a modest $8, weiss bier was a modest $4.75, ¼ liters and two German non-alcoholic beers (?!?) were a paltry $3.50, and bottled domestic concoctions were a miniscule $2.50.
While The Boot could not and cannot be ignored still, the crux of the biscuit at the Great Beer Palace was the "Viking Raid." This exercise in alcoholism consisted of purchasing six half-pints (eight ounces) of any beer on tap for $19. Finishing them, sans projectile vomiting, resulted in your photograph taken with modern instamatic camera technology and your immortalization placed upon the back wall. A successful Viking Raid also allowed you the golden opportunity of purchasing a Great Beer Palace t-shirt for an additional $5 and a plastic Viking helmet for $8. What else can you get for $19 (read: $32) that even compares? And, if you found yourself running short, a cleverly placed ATM would spit out that $50 to cover your evening's expenses. Free parking was available next door for those "designated drivers" that forgot the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and for plastic-helmeted forays into public urination.
"We encourage folks to take a cab here"
– Barfly's Guide to Chicago's Drinking Establishments (2000)
To provide some absorption for the sea of brew consumed by patrons, a humble selection of pub grub was available, almost all of which was available for under $4. Such delicacies included bratwurst, chicken wings (eight for $1 from 4-7pm, all week long), hot dogs, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, mushrooms, pretzels and hot mustard. The Palace also served surprisingly good pizza, priced $9 to $15, including the German Pizza (with potato, mushroom, onion, cheese, herbs, and veal bratwurst) and The Beer Palace Special (with thuringer, onion, sauerkraut, apple, cheese, and herbs). The best part: all of the above was served all day and night. Today, only a few places like the Beat Kitchen, Estelle's and Iggy's have a kitchen open late. Both pub and grub could also be enjoyed in the Great Beer Palace's spacious beer garden, where vines wrapped around neighboring buildings and upon some of the seats. At night, the garden was well lit with lights at the door.
"Mostly mainstream, more than tipsy mini-collectives whose primary purpose is to elevate their blood alcohol level."
– Centerstage Chicago
Thanks to Buddy for the photos
Rather than being a haven for crusty neighborhood types, the Palace held great appeal to Lakeview denizens, cheeseball aficionados, those who believe the liver is evil and must be punished, beer garden enthusiasts, and those visiting from Michigan. The resulting mix was nothing short of raucous. Sadly, roving bands of drunken Viking-wannabe gangs stumbling down Lincoln in search of a taxi have been replaced with condo dwellers walking their dogs as the Great Beer Palace has been transformed into the Glunz Bavarian Haus. It seems Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. (the oldest beer wholesaler in the US, since 1888), has followed the example set by The Grafton by transforming a popular, yet divey tavern into a popular and polished pub. If you miss the Great Beer Palace, just be glad that the space was not turned into condos. So, next time you're enjoying a boot at the Chicago Brauhaus, raise it up and toast the memory of the Great Beer Palace before you take that communal swig. Prost und skål!
"Without the Beer Palace, my life has no meaning."
– "Robert Taylor-Holmes," Chicago
"A day late and a dollar short? Why did the greatest drinking establishment of all time close? My memories are only memorable to me – many nights drinking, eating and hanging out with friends. A place I would highly recommend to all my friends who were looking for some REALLY good beer. I brought my husband there on our first date where we hunkered up to the bar for several hours chatting and people watching. Guess we've been out of Chicago too long ... Moving around the country chasing jobs never again to find bars like Chicago bars."
– Shelly Powell (February 24, 2004)
An e-mail received here at the Chicago Bar Project:
"I am the Mayor of the Great Beer Palace. I lived in the 3 bedroom apartment above (2F) and came down and drank on demand from 1993 to 1998. You failed to mention the great selection of Belgium ales and the fine selection of German liquors. I guess it is a mute point now. I still have business cards the say, 'If Found, Please Return To: GREAT BEER PALACE,' for use when I wandered away to one of the many other fine taverns in Chicago.
"Good GREAT web site.
"Admiral Kirbus T. Birdwell, I presume
"P.S. Yes, I was at the GBP when Lilly Vonhodowanic's daughter was manager and yes, I was there when it was Von Stuke's Hofbrau. Fred Stukenberg was my landlord."
– B.K. (June 23, 2005)