5739 N. Ravenswood Ave. (5800N, 1800W)
Chicago, IL 60660
"Home cooking at affordable prices"
Long before the elevated Metra tracks were laid across the street, before Edgewater existed as a neighborhood and even before Pop Morris' Green Mill Gardens, the roadhouse now known as the Fireside Restaurant & Lounge has stood across from historic Rosehill Cemetery for more than a century. The original tavern once served traveling farmers and mourners alike, even offering accommodations. Today, the off-the-beaten-path Fireside serves a long and Cajun-accented menu, highlighted by ribs and pizza, within the friendly confines of their spacious outdoor beer garden and by the actual fireside in the dining room. Fireside also serves an impressive selection of brew and a Bloody Mary bar for brunch on weekends, and is one of the few taverns in the area with a late-night license and a kitchen open until just before close. What more could you want from one of the oldest continuously operating taverns in Chicago?
Fireside is located on the east side of Ravenswood Avenue, up the street from Ravenswood Pub and just south of Rosehill Cemetery on Rosehill Drive. According to the Edgewater Historical Society, the Fireside has continuously operated as a tavern since 1904 and was built by the original owner, Peter Eberhardt. What is now a single structure was originally built as twin buildings with a breezeway in-between. The original wooden siding has been stuccoed over in the English Tudor style and the space between has been transformed into the pub's entrance. Peter Eberhardt sold his business in 1943 to the McLaughlin family, who then sold it until 1971 to Joe Linoinni. The place was once again sold in 1983 to Maggie Harper and then to Larry Staggs and Rich Wohn in 1989, who added the beer garden and expanded the food & drinks menu. As a side note, one-time general manager Bob Jones opened up Fireside Restaurant in Beverly on the South Side in 1996, which has since closed.
"Early photos show an unpaved street and, prior to 1906, the Chicago and North Western tracks at ground level. The elevation of the tracks changed the view from the front windows to a hill of prairie grass and scrub trees. The street was eventually paved with bricks and a trolley terminated just before the Rosehill Cemetery East Gate. The trolley was replaced by the Damen Avenue bus."
– excerpt from the Edgewater Historical Society website
As you pass through the wooden door of Fireside, you'll find the dining room to your left and the bar to your right. The bar area features a long wooden bar constructed partly of glass blocks that runs most of the length of the north wall and is lined with high-backed, padded metal barstools. Additional seating can be found in front of the windows overlooking Ravenswood and at a few cocktail tables opposite the bar. An electronic dartboard and internet jukebox can be found in the rear, and maroon-painted walls with French liquor posters round out the décor. Free WiFi is also available for those that believe drinking and typing somehow go together—I had to set my wine glass down to write this sentence... Above the bar back is a shelf jammed with every bottle served by Fireside, which numbers 60 in addition to 18 on draft. Fireside also features several white and red wines by the glass, with the most expensive being just over $30 a bottle, and weekends feature a Bloody Mary bar with 120 hot sauces to choose from, including my personal favorite, Slap My Ass and Call Me Sally. From the bar, you can access the Fireside's multilevel, all-weather beer garden that features a retractable awning, heating lamps in winter, ample plant life, and interesting array of hardware implements hanging upon the walls.
The kid-friendly dining room features an impressive brick fireplace with a copper hood in the north wall and is surrounded by low-slung wooden tables. Local artwork and photography line the walls. Starters consist of the usual suspects (wings, quesadillas, spinach artichoke dip), along with a bit of a seafood slant (bronzed shrimp, shrimp pesto pizza, calamari), and the popular brie served in a puff pastry, and there is a long list of salads (including crab salad and the "Cooler Salad" made with everything from the produce cooler). The sandwich selection is highlighted by the BBQ pork sandwich and neighborhood favorite entrées include Fireside's "famous" rib dinners, blackened catfish, Cajun meatloaf, peppercorn filet, and thin crust pizza. Somewhat surprisingly, the Fireside is open from lunch until late-night with delivery also available until 5:00am on Saturday and 4:00am every other day. If that weren't enough, Fireside also offers a frequent diner program and an annual Brewmaster Dinner where a brewery's specials (Lagunitas in 2008) are paired with a special selection of nosh.
"The staff is friendly, even when they're frazzled, but there's a perpetual need for just 1 more server. Maybe they get poached to work the proper dining areas when it's packed. Who knows? We're often in a group of 8 or 9, so we've bussed our tables, grabbed our food from the bar, gone up to order drinks, wiped up spills, what have you. So what? They're slammed, then again, I'm in a platoon of jukebox-bogarting, potty-mouthed, table hoggers who ain't in the habit of nursing drinks. Roll with it."
– excerpt from Rosie V. on Yelp! (October 5, 2007)
From my experience, Fireside's menu prices are far from cheap considering the service that is often quite slow, and that the quality of food is often just average and occasionally having to be sent back. However, this is par for the course of taverns and I've never been in a hurry while dining at Fireside, particularly as sampling the beer selection takes the edge off of any mediocrity encountered and the patio is very pleasant.
In its early days, the Fireside was a favored stop for farmers taking their goods to market further south, and for mourners attending services at Rosehill cemetery with accommodation available in separate rooms for men and women on the second floor. Today, Fireside draws a predominately older neighborhood crowd, as well as rib, beer and history enthusiasts. Occasional ghost hunters stop as well on their way to investigate the alleged hauntings at Rosehill.
For those of you boneyard buffs, Rosehill Cemetery is the largest in the city at 350 acres, and is one of the oldest dating back to 1859, according to David Wendell on Graveyards.com. Rosehill is the final resting place of several Chicago mayors as well as Oscar Mayer, Montgomery Ward, Richard Sears, and early Chicagoans originally buried where Lincoln Park now stands until they were moved to Rosehill – all except for Ira Couch in his mausoleum, if you've ever wondered why it is there on the southeast corner of Clark Street & North Avenue... Much to our delight, Rosehill Cemetery was actually named after a tavern keeper, Hiram Roe, and the land was originally known as Roe's Hill until a mapmaker misspelled it "Rose Hill." Finally, Rosehill was featured in the film, Next of Kin (gunfight) and U.S. Marshals (includes a shot of Lulu Fellowes, a.k.a. "The Girl in the Glass Box").
"Last time I was here, I was with a buddy who talked me into Jameson shots. Asian+Jameson=blacking out BIIIIIIG TIME. And now here's where this place gets most of it's stars. I blacked out in the girls' restroom and one of the more favored servers Barb checked in on me personally and helped wake me up. I literally hit my head on the bathroom stall and passed out. She kept poking me underneath the stall till I woke up. Now that's SERVICE!!"
– excerpt from Jessica S. on Yelp! (July 22, 2008)
Not to be confused with the Fireside Bowl (Logan Square) or Fireplace Inn (Old Town), the Fireside is a long-time favorite of Edgewater residents. Their menu specialties, beer selection, 4:00am license and patio make up for mediocre service, though one would hope that the owners could offer more consistency. Fireside has a small parking lot and limited spots can be found around the block. Cabs can be hard to come by, so have the bartender call you one unless you want to hoof it all the way over to Clark. If you like Fireside, you will also probably like their sister location, Clark Street Ale House, which does not serve food but has a similarly impressive beer selection. For more information, check out the Fireside Restaurant & Lounge website. Now where are those chestnuts?...