Editor's note II: thanks to a successful petition (an a little help from the Chicago Bar Project) and fight to prevent the property from being down-zoned into condos, it is with great pleasure that I can announce that Marge's is reopening after being shuttered for over four years. The owner of Garret Ripley's, the Pepper Cannister and Old Town Pub are opening "Marge's Still" in July 2007.
Editor's note: it is with great sadness that Marge's which was the oldest bar on Chicago's North Side has closed to make way for condos. What a shame.
Marge's Pub, not to be confused with Margie's on north Lincoln Avenue, is one of the oldest continuous running bars in Chicago. Since 1885, Marge's has been located at the corner of Sedgwick and Menomonee, just down the road from Sedgwick's and up the street from the Twin Anchors. While the latter establishments are more popular, Marge's stands out as a friendly neighborhood dive in the posh Old Town Triangle District.
"Beer is good for you"
The ancient façade is an awkward combination of brick and white wooden columns, topped off with a multicolored awning and an old wooden Marge's sign that would make the owner of Friar Tuck's feel right at home. On the inside, stucco walls adorned with old photographs of Chicago compliment the gray drop ceiling and worn wooden expanse of beer and neighborhood-ism. The ancient wooden bar sports a few taps, while the rest of the beer is located in the large silver cooler (including Point), with "Chicago Greats" posters, a few televisions and stained glass lights hanging above it. For more sophisticated patrons, there is a bookcase at the end of the room sporting a few classic novels and a table for a group of friends.
"It was mediocre years ago and it hasn't changed in years."
The Official Chicago Bar Guide (2001)
"The menu is heavy on 'super' and 'mighty' sandwiches. There are the half-pound super hamburger ($2.25) and super cheeseburger ($2.35), the mighty ham sandwich ($1.75) and the mighty ham and cheese sandwich ($1.90). For $1.50 you can get the plain 'ever popular' cheese sandwich or the liver sausage a la Marge. Marge's 'own Sedgwick Street chili" is $1."
excerpt from John R. Thomson's Chicago Tribune article, "Marge's 'Mighty Menu' a Neighborhood Stalwart" (August 12, 1977)
Entertainment can be had at the Golden Tee or Mars Attacks pinball machine, as well as trying your luck at the Porn 'o Plenty machine in the urine-soaked bathroom. If that's not enough for you, chew the rag a bit with the bartender or drown your sorrows with the help of the Jägermeister tap (decorated with inflatable bottle). A bartender once told me that Marge's once had a problem with cockroaches. In fact, she and her friends would cover each one they saw with one of the black plastic ashtrays. Once they had three or four, they would place their bets, lift the ashtrays and see which one could make it to the end of the bar first... If you're still hungry after reading that, Marge's serves the finest Yak-Zies "peeza" money can buy, in addition to a selection of standard pub grub fare.
"During the deep dark years of prohibition, Marge's was a speakeasy. They made their gin in the bathtub on the second floor, and sold it across the bar downstairs as fast as it was made. This place has been a tavern for nearly 80 years. It has a certain mushroom cellar bar aura, wooden floors, and that well worn ancient neighborhood tavern feel about it. While many of the places nearby have steered their tastes towards the new version of the singles bar, Marge's has quite steadily held its position as a simple tavern. They serve a half pound hamburger here, drinks are not expensive, and an ordinary neighborhood scene goes on. In the evening the place fills with young people. It's nice to watch Marge's prosper throughout the years and with the different generations. This place has a friendly Chicagoan corner tavern feel about it, and it doesn't change much."
Dennis McCarthy, The Great Chicago Bar & Saloon Guide (1985)
While it may sound like I am being hard on Marge's, I like the place quite a bit. Since 1955, Marge's has been a great place to let your hair down after work, have one or two (read: many) beers, and watch the game. I especially appreciate this atmosphere given the occasional uppity demeanor of the surrounding neighborhood. The funny thing is, 15 years ago, Old Town was pretty rough. Since then, Old Town has been transformed into an upper middle class and upper class residential area. Marge's has stayed the same in that time, and essentially has not changed since it opened. Without knowing her personally, I attribute credit for this directly to Marge Lednick herself who has owned the place for 45 years. On a recent visit, I think I saw Marge (an elderly woman) sitting at the end of the bar, as I think she lives upstairs and occasionally comes down for a drink and a chat. As I passed, I swear I smelled someone smoking a doobie and she was the only one there... Here's to Marge and living without pretension!
"[Marge is friendly but formidable woman, able to toss drunks out of her place with the ease of a Marine drill sergeant. She serves me one of the place's renowned, generous and juicy hamburgers. Later, bourbon and water in hand, I slice my way to the back room and its pool table. I slip a quarter in the slot and lose a game of 8-ball. [the upright piano player] Blind Al Gray is escorted to the bathroom. The room fills with smoke. The pinball machines rattle. I am cheered on by an adorable girl, in a place of unspoiled nightlife that has retained the charm of decades."
excerpt from Dr. Night Life's Chicago by Rick Kogan
"I used to live around the corner on Menomonee St. I have fond memories of the place as an open and supportive neighborhood bar. I used to go in and play the piano there, since I didn't own one."
B.J. (March 3, 2004)
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[back to the Chicago Bar Project]
Photo of Marge's courtesy of Planet99.com
Original petition to re-open Marge's from the desk of Pam and Andreas:
1.) If you would like to support the reopening of a restaurant (with an incidental liquor license) at 1758 N. Sedgwick please contact your alderwoman Vi Daley at:
||Alderwoman Vi Daley
||43rd Ward Office
||735 W. Wrightwood Ave.
||Chicago, IL 60614
AND PLEASE contact me via e-mail at marges@Mindspring.com (it is important that you include your name and address to really make your vote count) or call (312) 944-8200 and ask for Pam. Your support is crucial as our opponents would like the alderwoman to believe that everyone is adamantly against this reopening.
2.) We are wanting to reopen as a neighborhood restaurant. Keeping the feel and character of the original while updating the facilities to serve the needs of the neighborhood, families and others living nearby.
3.) Without your support and input this area may lose this neighborhood icon forever. Since 1885 this establishment has been an integral part of the character of this area, don't let our neighborhood lose its friendly afterwork gathering spot. Do we really need more condos or worse…
4.) A little bit about us: My name is Pam, my husband's name is Andreas and we will be responsible for the restaurant that will open at 1758 N. Sedgwick. We are familiar with the area and have opened restaurants you may be familiar with: Old Town Pub, located at 1339 N. Wells Street, Garrett Ripley's, located at 712 N. Clark Street, The Pepper Canister, located at 509 N. Wells Street.
5.) Although we have not decided on a name for the new establishment we have considered "Marge's" or "Marge's Still." These names are being considered out of respect for and in memory of Marge Lednick, who made this a landmark location. However, some people have expressed concerns about the name because Marge's was historically a tavern rather than a restaurant. We will keep this in mind before a final decision is made.
6.) Another crucial concern for the neighborhood has been the hours of operation. We anticipate a very quiet neighborhood gathering spot and will adjust our hours to meet the needs of the neighborhood.
7.) If you click on the link below and then "Plans for Marges" you will see one architect's vision for the future look of 1758 N. Sedgwick...
Opened July 2007
"I just stopped in to Marge's today, after not having been there since before it closed. While I had some regrets that it didn't have the same character as before, I had to admit that I was still happy that there was an operating bar/restaurant in that space. Not the same charm, but I had a nice burger, and a few nice brews. Thanks for all the work you did keeping this in the public consciousness, and I just ADORE your website - first class work!"
J.L. (January 13, 2008)