"The Real Wing"
Editor's note: In the summer of 2006, bw-3 has made its final transformation into the increasingly suburban Buffalo Wild Wings. The interior was gutted and renovated, and has much more of the plastic-y feel to it as the chain locations found outside the city. Patrons will find the dingy old bar in the front room has been replaced by booth seating and a take out counter in the back, and the bar is now located in the middle of the space that used to be two separate rooms and is surrounded by cocktail tables. Many have complained to me that the decrepit bathrooms were NOT part of the renovations, and that only a few plasma screens were added and that many of the old boob-tubes can still be found. I will update this page again once I have made by inaugural visit to this now-suspect version of bw-3.
Formerly referred to as bw-3 (as it will be referred to throughput this review), Buffalo Wild Wings is one of the largest restaurant and bar chains in the world with 96 locations all over the US, and even a location in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. With 37 TVs, six satellites, three big screens, 18 beers on tap, three rooms, 12 different sauces for your buffalo chicken wings, NTN Interactive Trivia and QB1 interactive football, a pool table, and two Golden Tee machines, the Chicago Lincoln Park edition of bw-3 is truly a sports Mecca – as opposed to the many other area sports bars that try to double as dance clubs.
Where to Park It
bw-3 is located on Lincoln Avenue between Wrightwood and Fullerton Avenues, between Gin Mill and Bordo's and across from Elliott's Consignment. When you walk in under the tan awning and through the wooden double doors, you will pass a case filled with sports memorabilia (available for purchase through a local merchant), and be sure to have your ID ready as they card everyone, all the time. The front room has a bar to the left, a purple-felted pool table and bench seating area around the corner by the front windows, a center island that is usually crowded, and a small area at the back with a smattering of tables. Food orders in the front room are placed at the counter and drink orders are placed at the bar, as there is no waitress service. The front room has a Golden Tee, jukebox, big screen, and several TVs, including one where you can play NTN. To play NTN, head up to the order counter and ask for an NTN trivia player. You will need to give them your driver's license and a major credit card.
If the front bar is crowded, head to the main restaurant area through a brick archway and past the hostess's stand. This area is filled with televisions, sports memorabilia, a big screen TV, and offers full, baseball cap-wearing waitress service, so go nuts. If you're going to see a big game, get there at least an hour beforehand as there is frequently a wait for tables. During more popular times, bw-3 opens up the third room, accessible by walking through the main restaurant area. This carpeted, wood-paneled room has less televisions and does not have a big screen. And, since the waitresses have to walk a little further, the service suffers beyond its usual mediocrity. Additional seating can be found outside, in the sidewalk café in the summertime.
Wild Wings and Weck
You must try the wings. They're the best I've ever had, bar none, and you can order up to 250 at a time. This limit may be due in part to a group of 10 friends I know, many resembling lead singers of the Barenaked Ladies, who downed 500 wings between them in only a few hours (that's an average of 50 wings per person). While successful, this feat surely violated at least one article of the Geneva Convention not to mention common sense. The wings are so good that I have often seen people having a beer at the bar while they wait for their carry-out order during the week. The only place that comes close to being as good overall in Chicagoland is Buffalo Joe's in Evanston, but Joe's only has mild, medium, and hot sauces. bw-3 has teriyaki, spicy garlic, curry, honey mustard, and barbeque in addition to their hot sauces. These sauces are also available in bottles to take home for $5. Of these hot sauces, Blazin' is the hottest and is, in my opinion, the best tasting, extremely hot wing sauce in the Chicago (and perhaps anywhere). Others that come close to having as good a very hot wing sauce include McGee's and Hog Head McDunna's.
If you're not a big fan of wings, have no fear. bw-3's other selections are almost as good. Also on the menu are "Buffalitos" (tacos), wraps with Thai and Jamaican Jerk sauces, "Buffalo Chips" (flat-cut potato slices, optionally topped with chili and cheese – absolutely magnificent), and a good variety of sandwiches that includes fish, which at least one of my friends has claimed "the best fish sandwich" they've ever had." In case you are wondering, "Weck" refers to Kimmelweck sandwich rolls – a special Kaiser roll topped with salt and caraway seeds. Kimmelweck sounds weird but is rather tasty but, sadly, is no longer available.
In a bizarre twist of fate, I was served six Blazin' wings instead of the hot variety I asked for, due to a mix-up with what a friend of mine had ordered. The Blazin' sauce turned out to be phenomenally good. Most sauces of this caliber are all burn with no taste. The only problem is that I needed extra napkins to wipe the sweat from my face, forehead and neck. These napkins were later removed from the table with tongs and deposited in a red biohazard bag. The experience reminded me of a friend's account of inhaling tear gas as part of basic training in the US Army. Fortunately, I was able to stop sweating within a half hour after the meal, thanks in part to the complimentary wet-naps, in time for our transition over to Lilly's across the street to hear some live R&B music. For true fans of buffalo wings, notice the buffalo wing-shaped buffalo leg just to the right of the counter where you order food in the main bar area. It looks like a mini-hindquarter of a buffalo. Looking at it makes me feel kind of funny. There is also a small, stuffed buffalo head above you as you make your way through the brick archway from the front room to the restaurant area.
The Mini Corn Dog Chunder
Faulty pricing aside, all of the food is quite good—even the mini corn dogs— and you can order gift certificates online. In fact, the mini corn dogs are so good that a certain rotund individual was observed, as part of a bet, trying to consume *80* mini corn dogs in one sitting. As you can guess, this attempt ended badly. The individual in question reached 76 and vomited with such force as to spray half-digested, mini corn dogs in an arc several feet in diameter. The entire episode was as memorable as it was vile.
The Good Old Days
The service tends to be slow as the waitresses forget they are working at times (especially the better looking ones), but it is worth it given the quality of food and the atmosphere. I once spent many a Wednesday night playing trivia and drinking $2.50 23-ounce Budweiser and Bud Light drafts, many a Sunday and Monday Night playing QB1 (everyone is charged $5 and those having the most points per quarter win a quarter of the pot), and can personally vouch for bw-3's popularity.
On the Other Hand...
While bw-3 is one of my Top 5 favorite bars in the city, there are a few things about it that drive me crazy. First, they will often refuse to seat you if your entire party is not present – even if your friend has just gone across the street to the ATM. Then, they'll get pissy if you have a drink in your hand when your everyone in your group finally arrives. To illustrate both points, I was once almost denied entrance to the dining room because I had a beer in my hand, which I ordered because they wouldn't seat me right away since my friend was a few minutes late and I didn't want to stand around with my thumb up my ass. I had to coax my way into the dining room, past the chalkboard with "Please wait to be seated" that you have to suck in your gut and squeeze past, so that I could spend more money on food. Then, when they're finally ready to seat you, barring any violations on your part, watch out that they don't seat you right under the big screen as they are want to do even when there's plenty of tables with better sightlines. Finally, when you're almost done with your food or your 23-ounce beer, mind that the busboy doesn't whisk it away without your permission. To top it off, the bar supports only non-Chicago teams even if they're in the playoffs. As a good friend of mine once said, "You'll never feel like a regular here."
Teams supported by the bar include the University of Colorado Buffalos, Indiana University Hoosiers, Cleveland Browns, and Cleveland Indians. bw-3 often supports local social sports teams, but you have to put up with "Go Tribe" t-shirts. Aside from their non-local sports support, bw-3 does have an interesting assortment of Chicago sports memorabilia on the wall, including signed Blackhawks jerseys, hockey sticks over the pick-up counter, Michael Jordan articles, and White Sox photos. There even appears to be an authentic, framed Olympic Russian hockey jersey. In addition, American beer connoisseurs will appreciate the Budweiser clock with a mini-Clydesdale-pulled beer wagon in it. Oh, yeah baby. The clock, by the way, is set 20 minutes ahead so they can kick you out early.
A special note to fans of University of Michigan football: I happened to be at B-Dubs for the meaningless bowl match-up of Michigan vs. Nebraska at the end of 2005. There, our party witnesses a load of Michigan fans jumping up and down every time Michigan made a play or Nebraska did something wrong – it was like laughing at someone pushing around a retarded kid, considering Nebraska's team the last few years. We found it ever so satisfying when Nebraska pulled off a victory. The retarded kid got the last laugh! (As did his buddies next door at the Michigan-State-loving Gin Mill.)
And guys, be careful. The downstairs bathroom door has a nasty spring to it – one the owner of Jake's Pub would be proud of. If there's a long line to the john, have a go on their second of two Golden Tee machines. Never mind the passersby that call you rude names as a result. The bathroom door, along with the lack of paper towels was much more tolerable when they put up the daily sports pages over the urinals in the men's bathroom. Now we have cheesy advertising to look at. What a shame. The sports pages have gone the same way as the Chicago Bulls blimp at the base of the staircase that has been replaced by a wrought-iron grate and a plywood bw-3 logo.
"With more idiot boxes per square inch than Best Buy, the place looks like a cave man convention on any given night. But, 35-cent Wing Night every Tuesday and Dollar Domestic Bottle night on Thursdays, keep them happier than pigs in shit."
– Shecky's Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002
Stumbling Home and the Damp Sock Mystery
bw-3 is perhaps summed up the best in a review found in the Barfly's Guide to Chicago's Drinking Establishments as, "...the kind of place where dinner after work could lead someone to watch the ball game, shoot some pool and stumble home at 2 a.m. only to go back the next day." Recently, I had an experience along these lines. After a Wednesday night of drinking several 23-ounce specials, NTN trivia, and scarfing down buffalo chips with chili & cheese, I woke up late the next day only to find my socks in the middle of the kitchen floor – one of which was very damp. I am still trying to piece together a satisfactory explanation. Below is part of an e-mail exchange that is typical following a night of wings and debauchery at bw-3:
"Need to temper down on the Wednesday night brewskies, as I felt like a dung beetle last Thursday a.m."
"Did baby need his bottle last Thursday – bottle of Bud!!!"
"No, but he needed some Di-gel and an extra roll of Charmin."
Questionable service aside from a constantly revolving waitstaff, bw-3 is one of my favorite bars in Chicago. They have the best wings in the city and are one of the best sports bars around. While it's a male dominated crowd and a bit smoky, even the ladies come occasionally for the wings, when they set concerns about their waistline aside. bw-3 is the ideal place to go for big games (get there early or you'll be exiled to the back, back room), fantasy football drafts and the start of long adventures in drinking. For further information, check out the Buffalo Wild Wings Chicago location website. Bon appetít.