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© The Chicago Bar Project   Written by Sean Parnell
Historic Bars of Chicago by Sean Parnell
 

Edgewater Lounge

5600 N. Ashland Ave. (5600N, 1400W)
Chicago, IL 60660
(773) 878-3343

Also known simply as, "The Edgewater," this relaxed lounge has been quenching thirsts in the Andersonville quadrant of Edgewater for the last 40 years. Once the former owner of Augenblick and Hop Cat took over seven years ago, regulars and filmmakers alike can enjoy a great selection of brew and homemade sandwiches served up by one of the best waitstaffs in the business. Add to that a popular sidewalk café in summer and a gnarly selection of tunes and you've got the perfect spot when in the neighborhood, especially when nearby Hopleaf is too crowded.

The Edgewater Lounge is located at the northwest corner of Ashland and Bryn Mawr Avenue, just east of the original location of the British School of Chicago. If you've been up and down Ashland as many times as I have, the washed out yellow & red throwback cocktail sign is a warm welcome, hanging from the red-brick, three-flat with its forest green-painted wooden façade. A bright green Rogue Ales neon sign hangs in the abbreviated front window, and is a sign of things to come. A pair of purple-painted wooden doors with stained glass windows bookending a short hallway leads you into the main bar. Here you'll find a rectangular wooden island bar with high-backed, black vinyl barstools across from wooden cocktail tables set into the wall between windows overlooking Bryn Mawr. The walls in the front room are painted purple, on which hang works from local artists, all of which are on sale with proceeds going entirely to the artist (without a commission to the bar), usually following an open house with complimentary buffet.

Hop enthusiasts will appreciate an intriguing array of 15 craft brews served from brass fixtures and 20 in bottles. There you'll find nicely priced installments from the Great Lakes, Three Floyds and Rogue Breweries. In fact, the Edgewater Lounge sells the most Rogue beer in the Midwest and even offers a few varieties not available elsewhere. It turns out that the owner husband-and-wife team of David and Donna Butler like the brewery so much, they were actually married there by the Rogue Brewery proprietor who is also a minister... At Edgewater Lounge, they even have a few Belgians and a cask-conditioned ale on tap, stored in a firkin. On a personal note, I would like to give a shout-out to Pauli, the bartender extraordinaire who typically works on Thursday and Friday nights. Pauli used to work at gone-but-not-forgotten favorites, JT Collins and Augenblick, where he originally met the future owner of Edgewater. Pauli is a great guy, and he serves up a mean Bloody Mary, served with a full-length celery stalk and beer back. The perfect compliment to Edgewater's array of beverages is a selection of sandwiches that form the crux of the menu. Each sandwich is made with whole-grain bread and a combination of 20 different ingredients you can mix and match, which is part of the casual, pure and fresh food the owners like to enjoy themselves. Even the fries are hand-cut and the soups are made from scratch (even the bisque with spiced popcorn). The word on the street is that the cod and pork loin sandwiches are particularly enticing, as is the fish fry every Friday...
 

On your way to the back room, you'll pass the kitchen, with its saloon-like swinging doors, and a photo collage from regulars (including their tattoos and postcards from their travels), opposite a wall-mounted jukebox that features an alternative medley and one of the few sporting Tom Waits. A side door leads to a sidewalk patio, populated with green tables, purple chairs and a fence adorned with plant life. The back room at Edgewater Lounge features a red back-lit wooden banquette and cocktail tables in the northeast corner, across from stained glass windows that match those set within the front doors, and there's also a smattering of low-slung wooden tables with wooden pew seating and kitschy light fixtures. A rear door of plate glass leads to a smallish beer garden that lies within the friendly confines of a tall wooden fence.

The crowd at Edgewater Lounge is as eclectic as the Edgewater and Andersonville neighborhood in which it can be found: Bohemian-types of all ages. Rumor has it that the joint is even called upon the Wachowski Brothers (filmmakers behind The Matrix trilogy and V for Vendetta) and the Coen Brothers (Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?) when they're in town. Everybody digs the bluegrass and Celtic music played by bands on Tuesdays and weekends, just as they used to have at Augenblick, and you'll find open mic night on Mondays.

"...when the movies' [The Matrix] writer-directors (and North Side residents) Andy and Larry Wachowski are in town, this neighborhood ale house with above-average pub grub and microbrews is their favorite hang. Management says there's nothing Hollywood about them--they don't have reserved seats or make special requests."

– excerpt from the Red Eye article, "Get 'Reloaded'; Enter the world of 'The Matrix' without leaving Chicago at these parties, pubs and clubs" (May 15, 2003)

The Edgewater Lounge has been so named since about 1970 and was owned by a woman named Mary who ran it for about 25 years. Mary then leased the bar to a man named McPartlan that ran it until he allegedly stole all the bar fixtures (including the original Brunswick wooden bar) and then set the place on fire. Fortunately, the fire didn't take very well. As you would guess, the villain fled and was never heard from again. Mary has since passed on and allegedly haunts the floors above... The building housing Edgewater Lounge dates back to 1901 and has been a local tavern since 1908. Like nearby Simon's Tavern, the Edgewater Lounge was once a speakeasy with an auto parts store serving as a front while the booze flowed in the back and poker games raged on downstairs. David Butler purchased Edgewater Lounge, renovated it (except for the signature sunbleached sign) and launched the new tavernal incarnation in the Year 2000, following the closure of the short-lived Hop Cat Brewing Co. on Clybourn, and the beloved Augenblick on Damen (after being booted by the lowly owner of Schwind Realty).

Well, there you have it. Edgewater Lounge. Lurid history, great beers and Bloody Marys, a crowd as intriguing as the décor, and the new mainstay of the neighborhood for which it takes its name. If you like Edgewater, you may also like its low-key neighbor, Ravenswood Pub, as well as brethren bars Hungry Brain, Charleston and Ten Cat. For more information, check out the Edgewater Lounge website and the video on Inside Chicago, you rogue!

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