Without the location of Miller's Pub or notoriety of Twin Anchors, Gale Street Inn is Jefferson Park's oldest and most popular tavern thanks to its fall-off-the-bone babyback ribs and for being "a regular joint" in the neighborhood. What more could you want on the Northwest Side?
As should come as no surprise, this Jefferson Park ribhouse is located at the southwest corner of Gale Street and Milwaukee Avenue, and next to Edward Fox Photography, another Chicago institution since 1902. A nicely appointed neon sign and forest-green-painted façade with flower boxes in summer awaits your visit. Pass through the door and you'll find the maître d's stand on your left.
If you're in for drinks or a quick bite, grab a high-backed wooden stool or green vinyl-padded booth in the bar area, which is more lively than you would think, though the gray carpeting and white drop ceiling keeps the bar noise and lip-smacking to a minimum. Entertainment here is found from a pair of flatscreen TVs and piano jazz Thursday through Sunday. Vintage photos of the neighborhood round out the décor.
A frosted glass partition separates the barroom from the rear dining room where you'll find low-slung wooden tables and walls of exposed brick. Waits for this area can be rather long on weekends, especially thanks to Gale Street's appearance on Amanda Puck's Check Please on WTTW 11, so plan ahead. The magician, Rick Davidson, entertains the dining room crowd for tips with his craft and balloon animals from 4-8pm every Sunday.
The story at Gale Street is the ribs, well known and loved beyond the area thanks to the annual Taste of Chicago and North Center's Ribfest. A full slab of ribs runs $22.95 and is four bucks off on Mondays. There is endless debate as to who serves the best ribs in Chicago, though one is sure to hear Twin Anchors, Miller's Pub, Smoke Daddy, and the self-proclamations of Robinson's. Some critics also bristle at Gale Street's method of steaming their ribs, rather than char-grilling or smoking them a violation in the eyes of rib purists. Whether you consider them the best or not, the ribs at Gale Street Inn are pretty damned good in the humble opinion of the Chicago Bar Project. Gale Street also serves filet mignon, New York Strip, London Broil, half-pound burgers, pork chops, and a seafood selection of shrimp, jambalaya, crab legs, and lobster tail. Gale Street Inn is now serving lunch as well as "The Big Easy" Sunday brunch with a Cajun flair (seasonal, phone first).
George Cholies opened Gale Street in January 1963, after being forced to abandon his sandwich shop & tavern across the street due to the construction of the Jefferson Park Blue Line El stop and bus terminal. Cholies sold Gale Street Inn in 1984 to the Karzas family, who run the joint today in what is a thriving part of the city. The crowd at Gale Street Inn consists primarily of neighborhood residents, cops from nearby Gale Street Station and some O'Hare hotel traffic. As for Cholies, he opened another Gale Street Inn in Mundelein with no connection and little resemblance to the original.
Gale Street Inn has won a bevy of awards for their ribs and, after having been in business for over 45 years, so you know they're doing something right. Afterwards, have a nightcap within the pleasantly dive-iness of the Jefferson Inn, two doors down to the south. For more information, check out the Gale Street Inn website.
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