Editor's Note: Tuman's has re-opened, as a "renovated" version of the original, sans, "Alcohol Abuse Center" from the front window. The "old" Tuman's is memorialized here.
"We Service and Install all Hangovers..."
"And travelers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh – but smile no more."
– Edgar Allen Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher
And so it was during the wee hours, on a cold January night in 2003 when Tuman's died a "loud, naked death" according to The Tap. The alterna-dive known as Tuman's Alcohol Abuse Center has shut its doors and for many Ukrainian Village denizens, they'll have to find a new joint that has cheap booze, broken down furniture, free pool, and a can on which to espouse their views just as many do in their online diaries. For the rest of us, a true original has passed into the realm of local lore, in the same manner as other neighborhood institutions as MaxTavern, Bluebird, Marge's and the Augenblick. Though it may not ease the pain completely, this page will at least live on as a reminder of a Chicago classic.
"Tuman's is the kind of place you take a Lincoln Park Trixie if you want to dump her. First off, she won't appreciate being taken to a no frills beer-drinkers bar with quite possibly the best jukebox second to Marie's Riptide Lounge. Secondly, the people there are 'real' which will immediately turn her off. And lastly, when you can get hammered on drinks that cheap, you have enough cash left to send her home via cab!"
– Anonymous posting on Citysearch: Chicago (July 12, 2001)
In days gone by, Tuman's could be found at the southeast corner of Leavitt and Chicago, next door to the Muzyka Funeral Home. At night, Tuman's was clearly visible from the Old Style sign hanging from the three-story, red-brick facade, above a smallish plate glass window with "Alcohol Abuse Center" painted in white on blue amongst neon beer signs. A plain, white wooden door provided little preparation for what patrons would encounter. As you walked in, there wasn't any need to have your ID ready or to have your money out as no one ever carded and there was never a cover. Just inside the entrance was an antechamber where a Brandenburg-like wooden partition with broken stained glass and concert postings for the Fireside Bowl and Abbey Pub taped upon it, separated the very north tip of the dark wooden bar from its main part further south. Here, scruffy regulars would eye incomers suspiciously from barstools, from the partial leather couch placed on a shelf-like landing where those sitting on it would use the radiator as a footrest, and from upon sofa cushions on the other side of the door, again with a radiator footrest. Elsewhere in this gothic foyer were a couple of dusty, painted wooden squirrels above, and two gumball machines on either side of, the front door that wouldn't close on its own, which would leave those by the door to suffer from the cold or heat (and by the looks of the air conditioner that hung over the door, you'd want to make sure the door was firmly shut). In times of old, women would chew the rag with each other and wait for their men-folk to wrap up their drinking as they were not permitted beyond the gate. In more recent history, the bar served as a counter for serving booze to thirsty neighborhood dwellers. Near the end, the north end of the bar functioned as part museum piece for shotgun shells, golf balls, books on guns, a can of Spam, and a copy of Moscow's Greatest Hits, and part stockroom for bottles of bourbon, vodka and gin behind wood and glass cabinets.
"'Jeez, it's depressing, this is closing,' someone mumbles loudly in the surging dark. Word is out. A poster is pasted to the twenty-foot mirror behind the bar: 'Pay your respects' sketched beside a heart tattoo carved with 'TF' (Tuman's Forever). The closing was rumored for years... C'mon, Tuman's was filthy and adorable: seedy, but the sweetest stinkbox this side of a Delta juke. What's that crazy wail drunk-howling on the box? 'I will always love you in my own crazy way.'"
– Ray Pride, "Tuman Show, Last Call at the Dive-In," NewCity Chicago (January 8, 2003)
Passing through the ancient portal, you'd find a room, much like the Inner Town Pub only darker, with the rest of the old wooden bar running along the east end of the room. Behind the bar hung a romance era nude from a large, Tiffany-style lamp, in front of a mirrored bar back that separated a set of cabinets. Bartenders, surprisingly attitude-free and expeditious, served Guinness, Rolling Rock and Bass on tap for $2.50 each every night, thank you very much. Actually, the price for a long time was an even more meager $2.00 but they had to hike prices 50¢ to pay for a new floor. A dozen more brewskies were available in bottles including Double Diamond, Killian's (50¢ on Mondays), Heineken, Harp, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Stella Artois (for $2.50 – take note bw-3), and dirt cheap bourbon, Scotch and whatever else you wanted. Ingredients to mixed drinks were never measured. Let's put it this way: you could get roaring drunk for $20. How many other places can say the same? (aside from Rich's First One Today of course) Across from the bar was a series of low-slung wooden tables with formations at the point where the legs met the surface of the table that looked like it was, if covered, where one might stash alcohol in a Prohibition-era, speakeasy bust (ala the Sidestreet Cafe in Toledo). Amongst the tables, and perched under an unlit neon "Alcohol Abuse Center" sign, mounted prominently on the ornate, cream-painted tin western wall, used to be a '97 Golden Tee machine that was actually turned off and serving as an ashtray rest.
"I have to say honestly that I wouldn't miss Tuman's that much in my actual day-to-day drinking, but I would miss the IDEA of Tuman's very much."
"Thought I'd tell you a quick story about Tuman's from about four years ago. I'm drinking with my friend Dave, hanging out on the love seat at the front of the place. Dave tells me the next day that, after we finished and headed our separate ways, he arrived home and took his jacket off to find a nice sized cockroach fall out of his sleeve. 'Luckily,' his massive dog saw it and munched the thing right up off of the floor. Dave hadn't taken his jacket off all night and I know this to be fact. While Tuman's will most certainly be missed, the love seat nor the coackroaches who stow away in unsuspecting bargoer's clothing for a better life breeding behind someone else's walls will not."
– Tom Molony (April 28, 2003)
If you could make your way past the earthy bottleneck formed by a throng of alcohol abusers, the red (clay) brick road led to a pool table surrounded by a hodgepodge of furniture, including a barber's chair with a footrest and built-in ashtray, intermingled with kegs with circular plywood "covers" that provided seating. Here, those playing billiards would fight for a shot amongst elbows, street vendors wandering in to sell tamales or pot brownies, and a plume of smoke hung eternally under a colorful table lamp when it wasn't being pushed around by a few fans hanging from a blackened ceiling. For the truly adventurous, a pair of frightening bathrooms with knotted rope for doorknobs could be found in the back, down a foul-smelling corridor and past the watchful gaze of Bela Lugosi as Dracula, illuminated in lighting the color of urine. While the facilities were less than desirable, they did provide urban poets a tablet upon which to espouse their philosophies, rantings and subject matter sure to be part of their online diaries in the same manner as Phyllis' Musical Inn does today. For those needing a breather, the side door was often left open to give your lungs a break.
"Fun place, lots of people who despite the divey-ness had a pretty healthy level of class. Oh, except this one dude who was dry-fingering some girl's butt. Also, there was this gay guy who spent two hours almost making out with what appeared to be a hermaphrodite."
– The Wizard of Oddz (April 14, 2002)
The most fascinating aspect of Tuman's was the people. The macabre saloon was a favorite to bike messengers, online diarists/blogs, musicians, urban yokels, writers, bartenders from the area, adventurous North Siders, art students, ruers of hygiene, cheapskates, scruffmeisters, poseurs, toadstools, Ralph Nader supporters, neighborhood "usuals," booze sponges, pedantists, foolish Suburbanites, trust fund slummers, munchy vendors, nuevo hippies, post-grunge flannelists, would-be poets, secretly homeless, High Fidelity worshipers, drummers, drug addicts, Polkaholics, Dead Kennedy admirers, Shaggy look-a-likes, experimenters in facial hair, Ragstock shoppers, roaches, and an old lady pool shark. All of the above subtly grooved to an eclectic jukebox under the digital Old Style clock set 30 minutes fast that featured Fugazi, Velvet Underground, Hank Williams, the Swans, ZZ Top, Gang of Four, Motorhead, the Melvins, the Clash, Nirvana, Burning Spear, Johnny Cash, Spacemen 3, and MC5. The juke at Tuman's was even ranked #4 in the city for Best Jukebox in Citysearch: Chicago's 2001 audience poll and was one of five bars nominated by the editors. To illustrate the scene at Tuman's, I submit the following to you for consideration: I overheard Nietzsche pronounced "Neetch-uh" by a pseudo-intellectual when talking to his friend wearing a t-shirt with Shakespeare quoted on it, while an exceedingly drunk regular paced up and down the bar, and outside, with a bottle of Miller Lite – all this while an inebriated alterna-couple tried to dance and failed in the antechamber. Tuman's was not only the antithesis to Alcoholics Anonymous and the Betty Ford Clinic, but also to other Chicago bars like Cherry Red, the Gramercy and the Northside, as you could get plowed wearing whatever you wanted and with your hair buggered in any which way. Not only would you be accepted, but you may also have been the rotten apple of someone's eye. In fact, Tuman's was the #1 Audience Winner for Best Pick-Up Bar in Citysearch: Chicago's annual poll in 2001. While seemingly innocuous, you certainly did need to watch your back in the joint, as pointed out in the story a Chicago Bar Project enthusiast e-mailed me: "One night while coming out of the bathroom I was narrowly missed by a flying beer bottle as a fight started to break out while John Phillip Sousa was playing on the jukebox. It was so appropriate and yet such anachronistic background music that it was hilarious. It quickly broke up, like most bar fights do, and no one was really hurt. Although they had the door locked when we left, I hope our unlocking it with the ousted party still outside didn't cause any added harm."
"Walking in at 9:30, I thought I had the wrong place. It was Coyote Ugly meets Sanford and Son. There was a crowd gathered below a group of girls standing on the beaten old bar, and at the count of three they all exposed their breasts. Then some guys leaped onto the bar and flashed their genitals, too."
– Tuman's Dies a Loud, Naked Death, The Tap (February 2003)
"T.S. Elliot must have been thinking about Tuman's when he wrote his miserably bleak poem, 'The Hollow Men.' One stanza in particular comes to mind:
'This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.'"
– posted by Fred (January 10, 2003)
For many, Tuman's became evidence that the Ukrainian Village itself might no longer exist as we know it today, leaving area residents in a morose drunken state and nowhere to go. As evidence of its popularity and depravity, Tuman's Alcohol Abuse Center was one of four editorial nominees for Best Dive Bar and was ranked #5 for Best Place to Relieve Holiday Stress in Citysearch: Chicago's 2000 and 2001 annual polls, respectively, was the perennial favorite to Jolly James of the Polkaholics, was named as one of NewCity Chicago's Top 25 Bars We Can't Do Without in 2001, came in third place for Favorite Place for Budget Booze in Metromix's 2001 rating, was selected as Best Bar by BandWire Chicago, and was even written up (!) in Chicago Magazine during the late 1990's. Today, the Alcohol Abuse Center is currently being renovated into an unobjectionable, unremarkable establishment in the manner of Mac's American Grill, located nearby on Division and under the same ownership. Meanwhile, increasingly pretentious bars are moving in like innjoy, Betty's Blue Star Lounge and Big Wig. Some consolation may be found in that the establishment formerly known as Tuman's will continue to serve as a bar, as it has done so for over 100 years. Until then, the Rainbo Club, Phyllis' Musical Inn, Gold Star, and the Inner Town Pub remain as the last classic Ukie Village dives – but for how long? Even though some may believe that Tuman's sold out after taking the concept of a dive bar to a new low, at least they never installed a phone. And now it's last call for Tuman's – you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Thanks, Bill.
"I f*ckign miss this place—it was the best bar in the entire world, I had one of the best weekends (yes I said WEEKENDS) of my life here, and it will forever hold a place in my heart. Where else could three grown men go smelling of Old Spice, dressed in old-man polka garb, and grab a beer while eating some special brownies from the bread lady? I spent my last four birthdays there—drinking PBRs and cranking Johnny Cash and the Melvins on the juke box—best damned juke in the STATE!! Damn I miss this place."
– Jolly James of the Polkaholics
"Not really a story, but more of a lament. When I lived in Ann Arbor seven or eight years ago, my roommate and good friend took his band to Chicago to play a show with the Sweep the Leg Johnny Kids. He came back a few days later raving about some bar they had taken him to that was way better than the Fireside called something like "Alcohol Abuse Center" that had not only dirt cheap Rolling Rock, but the best god damn jukebox he'd ever seen. Unfortunately, then next time we were in town, the Sweep Kids were on tour, and my friend couldn't remember where the place was. Soon after, we parted ways, him moving to California, me to Jackson, WY. Now, many years later, I'm online researching a trip to Chicago in May for the Blackout at the Empty Bottle and decided to find this legendary bar when I come upon your site eulogizing Tuman's. My luck in Chicago isn't going well. I never made it to the Lounge Ax before they closed, and it looks like I'll never go to the Tuman's my friend got me so fired up about. Anyway, the site is great, but it really gives me an idea what I missed."
– J.R.W (March 24, 2005)
"Regarding stories of that place, I was wondering if you had heard of some story that happened back in the summer of 1990 out side of Tuman's. I was about 9years old. Some kind of fight or other between I think about 3 guys outside of the bar. I believe the one of those guys last name was Sotello. I recall all the grown ups in the house saying something about it was getting bad around that area that there was a a bloody fight arond the block...and that us kids couldn't play after sunset outside because there were people that were dangerous and killing with broken beer bottles. I am so curious to know what ever happened with that. I was walking by Tuman's the day that happened all I remember is my dad telling me that's what happens when you do drugs...so don't you ever do them. LOL."
– Di (July 9, 2005)
"Coming from a long line of alcohol abusing Tumans, I had to go in search of, quite possibly, some illegitimate half-brother, but never could track down Bill. 14 of us showed up at 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon only to find it didn't open until 3. After devouring Vienna hot dogs down the street, tattooed Jeff showed up to serve us a round of drinks, including several Guinness, and said that will be $12. I knew there was a touch of home within those walls and throughout the neighborhood-a Polish funeral home and Anne's (my mother's name) Bakery across the street. I was crushed to see the 'For Sale' sign when we arrived but my brother, nephew and friends all experienced that great feeling of getting drunk in the afternoon and being blinded by the daylight when we left. Glad it's still Tuman's but not sure why."
– P. Tuman (January 22, 2005)
"We have named our fantasy baseball league the Tuman's Tavern Association. We did so in 1998, when the league started, and we were students at the U of C. We are there every year, the night before draft, by way of a pilgrimage."
– T.A. (October 13, 2006)
"Cheapest, Strongest Drinks in Chicago"
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"Many dive-bar fans shed a tear or two when Tuman's Alcoholic (sp) Abuse Center closed its doors in 2002. Sure, the bathrooms were so disgusting you peed twice and ate salt before heading out, and of course your bottom got sore after hours of sitting on empty kegs pulled up to makeshift plywood tables. But the beer was so cheap you wondered how it stayed in business, and the clientele was so laid back you wondered why you bothered to put on a clean shirt. It was a dive bar that other dive bars aspired to be like, complete with vintage 1997 Golden Tee and a rock and blues jukebox full of pure gold."
– Centerstage Chicago