"A Package Goods License in the City of Chicago allows the retail sale of alcoholic liquor that is enclosed in the original bottle, jug, can, keg, cask or other container that remains -- without alteration -- sealed and labeled by the manufacturer."
So sayeth the Great City of Chicago and so existeth the J&R Tap, one of the few remaining "package goods" bars that is worth walking into without fear of having a chair broken over your head. Located at the corner of Lakewood and Wellington, the J&R Tap can be spotted with its brightly lit Old Style sign amidst a sea of condos and a few remaining wood-frame houses. Instead of "J&R Tap" written above the Old Style sign, the bar holds true to its roots as a classic Chicago tavern by just having "Package Goods" written. Back in the day, this is all people needed to know: beer here, and Old Style at that.
Normally, I am quite hesitant to step foot into a bar that I cannot see into. The J&R Tap has two, relatively small windows that are crowded with beer signs and obscured with metal grating. However, in the summertime, the J&R Tap can be far more inviting as you can see through the flimsy screen door into the inviting space within.
Inside the Tap
Upon entering the J&R, your attention will most likely be drawn straight towards the old-fashioned, long wooden bar on the west side of the room. Here, middle-aged women serve young and old patrons alike, while keeping the peanut bowls filled. All of this activity takes place against an ornate bar backdrop consisting of a large clock just below the green tin metal ceiling, framed by two glowing golden globes, old pictures of Chicago, tasteful mirrors and stained glass cabinets, and wooden shelving hosting a plethora of glasses. Take a seat at one of the barstools or at one of the elevated wooden tables along the east side of the room, under old framed beer signs hanging on the faux wood-paneling.
The side tables are somewhat more conducive to have a go at one of the bar's board games, including Trivial Pursuit, which I once saw six guys playing heatedly one night. If that's not enough to hold your interest, I recommend the shuffle-puck bowling to the left of the front door across from the electronic dartboard. Here, you can get your mojo working to the sounds of 80's hair bands on the jukebox, including Spinal Tap.
Currently, the J&R Tap represents an interesting struggle between new and old. On the one hand, you have a classic Chicago tavern with its ornate wooden bar and once-ubiquitous Old Style sign, while on the other hand you have cheesy 80's metal in the air along with Miller Lite balloons and giant Miller Genuine Draft inflatable basketballs hanging from the ceiling (above a speckled linoleum floor), and two Icehouse giant bottlecaps hang above the door on either side. The result: an old bar that has tried to keep pace but is still 10-20 years behind the times. At least they've had enough sense to put a Golden Tee machine in the back.
Above the Tap
My fondest memories relating to the J&R Tap stem from the apartment above it. In it dwelled a close friend of mine and two of his buddies. These guys threw fantastic parties. On one such occasion, a party was thrown on the first day of the year that was warm enough to barbeque and hang out on their porch (which was a little early this year: May). We spent most of the time looking through pictures of our recent trip to Jazzfest and, more importantly, the R Bar down in New Orleans. The spirit of the event was captured in the cooking of a gigantic vat of red beans & rice. Unfortunately, the chef administered a teaspoon of hot sauce into the cauldron to spice it up a little. I do not recall the name of the hot sauce, but it was one of those that has only burn instead of taste – a sauce of the same ilk as "Ass in a Bucket" that can be found in any location of the local Cajun restaurant, Heaven on Seven. Consequently, the mere teaspoon of the stuff rendered the entire crock of red beans & rice almost inedible because it was so hot. One of the party-goers with a penchant for enjoying the hottest of foods didn't let the hot sauce stop him, as he ate an entire bowl. Not even his profuse sweating stopped him from enjoying it. In fact, the girl that took to wiping the sweat from his face later became his conquest for the evening.
Super Bowl Sunday 1998
The apartment at 1300 W. Wellington was also the locale for one of the best Super Bowl parties I have ever attended. At the time, I lived about seven blocks west from the apartment, also on Wellington. On that night, I biked over to the party and ran up the rickety wooden steps next to the J&R Tap, leading to the second floor. Inside was a throng of people, each bringing food. One couple brought an entire plate of smoked salmon and, to this day, whenever either of their names are mentioned, fond memories of enjoying that fish come to mind. I, on the other hand, brought a case of beer – thus extending my reputation for bringing less alcohol to a party than I would ultimately consume. The year was 1997, which saw the Denver Broncos defeat the lowly Green Bay Packers. Sadly, the Chicago Bears once again did not even make the playoffs. Anyway, much food and drink were enjoyed by all and, as usual, I was one of the last ones left at the party. After watching all three hours of Jerry Maguire, all who were left was myself, a girl I had met at the party, my friend, and one 40-ounce bottle of home brew in the fridge that made Guinness seem like a light beer. While I cracked open the lonely bottle, my friend retired to his room and humbly requested: "Just don't steal anything!"
With the final beer down the hatch, I rose to retire myself as it was 2:00 a.m. Monday morning. The girl left with me and offered to drive me home, even after I declined because of having ridden my bicycle. Well, the nice lass persisted and we through my bike in the trunk of her car. As we neared my apartment, a great idea entered my mind as it had so often in the past at this time of night: let's go somewhere else! On this night, the girl suggested some electronic skeet shooting at Marie's Riptide at Armitage and Hermitage. How could I say no? After a close competition and a few more beers, I finally called it a night. The girl went home, and I, now about twice as far from home as I started, had to peddle back, drunk, at 4:00 a.m. Monday morning. That wouldn't have been so bad if my tire hadn't been flat, which I rode home on oblivious to this fact. I finally made it home before 5:00 a.m. and was back at work a few hours later...
"I remember walking into the tavern (Joe [son of the owner] didn't call it a bar ? maybe that's a Chicago thing) with Joe, and his father looking up, rolling his eyes, mumbling some cuss words under his breath, then greeting his son and I. Yes, Old Style was the drink of choice in there. We stayed at Joe's fathers house (where they had a pet dog with visible tumors), and partied in Chicago that night."
– W.P. (December 9, 2002)
One of the Last...
My recommendation: head over to the J&R Tap to have a few beers or better yet, many beers, and hang with the locals. It won't be long now until the bar is bought by new owners, completely revamped, and drives away much of the older neighborhood traffic – all of which gives it the character that other bar owners spend hundreds of thousands trying to recreate. Head over before it is bought and trendi-fied by yuppies whose college dream it is to own a bar without any idea of what makes a great bar. The J&R Tap is perhaps best summarized in The Official Chicago Bar Guide, even though it was written in 1994: "Classic old Chicago neighborhood tavern. Amazing wooden bar includes a clock and stained glass. Owner Joe Oshinski doesn't make fru-fru drinks." Cheers to J&R and G. Heilemann.
"I remember the dusty place with Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra and Squeeze on the jukebox. He [Joe] had a black cat with a name I won't repeat. LOL."
– R.R. (June 29, 2005)