1010 W. Belmont Ave. (3200N, 1000W)
Chicago, IL 60657
"Food, music & drinks until 4am"
Bright lights, Big City Tap. What used to be a scary dive bar called "Off Broadway" connected to 1,000 Liquors next door, which catered to the transient hotel crowd, is now an immaculately clean and tidy new bar. While being known for its string of Italian restaurants that includes Leona's, Pizza Capri, Chicago's Pizza, and Pompeii, this stretch of Sheffield in Lakeview is finally turning into somewhat of a happening strip now that the Big City Tap has joined Berlin, Trader Todd's and Matilda. While the Big City Tap was once not for the squeamish, it now offers thirsty patrons a nice place to enjoy a pint, especially late-night as an alternative to Nick's Uptown and Tai's til 4.
Having opened in 2001, the Big City Tap is easy to spot with its large neon sign and tall windows that face outward overlooking Belmont. This effect is reminiscent of the similarly named Big Downtown on Wabash in the Loop (now defunct). Upon entry, you'll find a large room with hardwood floors, exposed brick walls with dark mahogany wooden paneling, and a stocked metal beer tub as you walk in the door. Step up to the dark wooden bar with beveled glass and large mirrors, and order a martini from one of the cute Eastern European barmaids. Old-fashioned lights hang over the bar from a rather ornate, copper-painted tin ceiling. Nice old sepia-tinged photos of Chicago and New York also hang over the bar and around the room, including one of the Chicago Police circa 1890. These pictures are complimented by the two flatscreen televisions that once spewed forth SignCast advertising but now offer Cub games, ESPN's Sports Center, Iowa Hawkeye games in the Fall, and movies earlier in the week. For additional entertainment, a jukebox is located across from the bar, mounted into the wall behind a sliding wooden door, and a DJ gets started later in the evening. Next to the juke is an elevated area with a Golden Tee machine, a smattering of tables and a fern. There is also a wooden case with cigars, fine liquor and a nice view into the liquor store next door (which used to be the entrance to the bar from the liquor store). And guys, if you buy a cigar don't worry about heading to the can with it as there is an ashtray conveniently located between the urinals. A VIP Room in the back offers up a pool table and two Golden Tee machines for the Big City Tap elite.
The crowd is somewhat difficult to peg. I've gotten a weird vibe from the crowd, but a rather innocuous one. Initially, I couldn't be sure if it was a gay bar or not, which made me a little uncomfortable, but it now seems that while some of the Berlin crowd might filter in, it's the same crowd that you'd see at Sheffield's, Redmond's or anywhere else in Lakeview. Additionally, since I initially wrote this review of Big City Tap, there has been a disturbing development at Big City Tap, which you should consider before your next visit:
"I think its important to note that they make a copy of your driver's license when you enter the bar. They do not disclose how they are using it or what they are doing to keep your sensitive driver's license number and information private. To go there, you must sacrifice your identity. They refuse service if you don't let them make a copy."
– G.S., June 27, 2006
I can't help but think the Big City Tap has more of a hotel bar feel than a late night place – a hotel downtown that is, rather than "The Diplomat" transient hotel around the corner on Sheffield. It must be the fern, the spotlessness and the wood paneling. However, this could work a lot better than the dive atmosphere at Tai's til 4 or Nick's Uptown when you just don't want to go home at 2:00 or 3:00am. For more information, check out the Big City Tap website. Prost!
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Corner building housing the Big City Tap with 1000 Liquors