14 W. Elm St. (1150N, 0W)
Chicago, IL 60610
"A Distinctive Diversion"
"On any given night you can go to the Hangge Uppe, meet a girl, fall in love, realize you're both soul mates, go to the bathroom, and come out to find her making out with another guy." – J.S.
Hangge Uppe joins nearby Leg Room, Lodge, Mother's, Mother's Too, She-nanigan's, Bootleggers, Finn McCool's, Bar Chicago, and Butch McGuire's, as one of the popular Rush and Division meat-markets, most of which are owned by the Lodge Management Group. People that frequent the Hangge Uppe either have a blast or are completely desperate, occasionally both. Regardless, anyone can have a good time at the Hangge Uppe if you're in the right mood, just don't expect a clubby, sophisticated atmosphere. As the record logo indicates, Hangge Uppe's has embraced a musical theme, albeit a cheesy one, so you'll find modern beats upstairs and an oldies-retro sing-a-long downstairs every night of the week, both of which are spun by DJs that know how to get the crowd into it. Add to that both real and imagined hauntings and patronage from a few celebrities, and you've got one of the most entertaining late-night bars in the city.
Getting In: Get There Early
Hangge Uppe is located in the Gold Coast, just north of the Viagra Triangle formed by State, Rush and Bellevue, and on the first floor of a rather large apartment building at the corner of State and Elm. To find it, just look for the green awning and white sign with records on it, next door to Elm Street Liquors (formerly Spike's Rat Bar). Hangge Uppe's is both an after-work bar and a late night bar, closing at 4:00am on weekdays and 5:00am on weekends. If you get there anytime after midnight, except early in the week, expect to wait up to a half hour in the line outside. Just be sure to have your $10 cover and ID ready as you stand outside against the wall within the confines of the velvet ropes so as not to arouse the ire of the bouncer who is just looking for reasons to deny you entry. As you finally step through the wooden double doors at Hangge Uppe, you will be cheerfully greeted by a beer wench aggressively taking drink orders (I think she works on a commission basis). Once you're set in the drinks department, you'll face a difficult choice: hangge out on the more urban upstairs dance floor, or trundle downstairs to get your retro fix.
The upstairs green-carpeted expanse consists of a bar on your right, opposite several cocktail tables, and a wooden dance floor to your left by the windows. The DJ in the corner spins somewhat more of a dance music and hip hop set, interspersed with spins of a perverse "Wheel of Fortune," only with horrible shots as your, uh, "prize." As with the rest of the Hangge Uppe, the dance floor is surrounded by thrift store decorations on the walls, including a giant electric guitar on the ceiling surrounded with red light bulbs. There are also mirrored columns located around the dance floor that allow you to slyly scope out talent on the dance floor without being noticed (or at least without you thinking you were noticed...). Strangely, there is also a big screen behind the dance floor, perhaps to watch sports during the day before the crowd comes in. The crowd on this floor is a mix of Gold Coasters, visitors to our fair city, and suburban club hoppers. In addition to the wooden bar that runs the length of the eastern wall, dance floor patrons are served from the aforementioned beer tub.
A Haunting Amongst Watermelon Shots
If "Sweet Caroline" is more your speed (played at least twice a night), take a walk downstairs to the self-proclaimed, "Rock and Roll Heaven." Here you'll find a labyrinth of wood paneled rooms brightly lit with old-fashioned lights. On your immediate right is the heavily lacquered Watermelon Bar, the first of four downstairs bars. Here you can find bottled beer, a small selection of spirits and watermelon shots once served in test tubes and still advertised above with test tubes poking out of painted wooden watermelons. It is here that the haunting takes place.
The ghost is a woman from a bygone era that likes to drop ashtrays onto the floor, open the taps on beer kegs, overturn chairs, and turn the sink on in the women's bathroom so that it floods. I ran across a discussion board posting from a woman named Samantha Long, who used to be a waitress there. She claims that the women's toilet would flush unexpectedly, glass could be heard shattering but never found, unknown voices would call your name, and doors would become unlocked without explanation. Samantha and her staff believed that these paranormal activities were due to a young woman who was killed when the downstairs used to be a speakeasy during Prohibition. Prior to being Hangge Uppe's, the bar used to be a place called Sully's in the 1960s, which attracted more of a dressy, pre- and post-theater crowd. I spoke with a current Hangge Uppe employee, Tommy, who has worked there longer than most can remember, and who claims to have seen a female ghost that looks like a lady from the Sully's-era because of her big hat like women used to wear to the theater. According to Tommy, the apparition is only active before and after the bar is open, presumably because the average patronage at Hangge Uppe's is enough to scare even ghosts. Believe it – or not! (Can you hear the voice of Jack Palance?)
Kamikazes and Green Rivers
Just beyond the Watermelon Bar are more tables, the DJ booth and one of two dance floors. Here the DJ plays a medley of music from the 50's through the 80's, and if you're lucky (or have nice cans), he'll take requests. Girls like to shake their thang on tiny platforms located on either side of the DJ booth, while guys ogle and salivate in front of them. On the left side of the room is the photo booth, cigarette machine and men's bathroom. In the men's room, guys are treated to the dignity of a piss trough, a stall without a door and a pot I wouldn't sit on if my life depended on it. Behind the DJ booth and through the archway is another room, where it is a tad quieter and more suitable for picking up once you have strutted, danced and caught someone's eye. This area was recently remodeled and features the "KK" or "Kamikaze Bar" where shots of the same name are dispensed with careless abandon.
Across from the Watermelon Bar is a short, narrow hallway that features an even smaller bar called the "Green River Bar," presumably because the walls are painted green here. Just beyond you will find a room with a few cocktail tables, another dance floor and a dark ceiling with painted stars. Ogling the dancers can be done from a table or from one of the carpeted alcoves behind the dance floor and in front of the mirrors (this is also a good place to stow your jacket, but keep an eye on it as they tend to disappear – especially the leather ones...). Music heard on this dance floor is the same played by the DJ and heard throughout the lower level. Beyond the cocktail tables, a short passage completes the loop downstairs (some guys can be seen circling this loop for hours) and leads to the fourth and final bar, across from the women's bathroom and popcorn machine. Once a coatroom and later the "Shot Shack," the fourth bar is now called the "Island Bar," which only serves shots, mixed drinks, and nasty rotisserie pizza. As with most places in Chicago, it has been claimed that the mob used to hold court downstairs in these rooms in the early part of the 1900s (before the bar was known as the Hangge Uppe). While supporting evidence for this may be limited, what I can tell you with absolute certainty is this: on a stool at the end of the Island Bar is where you will find Leon, every Friday and Saturday night.
The Legendary Leon
He doesn't want much on the internet about his personal life, so I will respect his wishes by just telling you this: Leon has been a regular at the Hangge Uppe since it opened in 1970, which is longer than I've been alive. He is as much a fixture at Hangge Uppe, as the urine-soaked bathrooms, broken records that hang from the ceiling, and the air of desperation. Our best estimate is that Leon is about 75 years old. His dome hasn't seen much hair on it since the Carter Administration and his head clears the bar, but not by much. As legend has it, Leon would pull up a stool every Friday night in the same place: across from the bar and directly in front of the staircase. In the mid-1990s, some friends of mine persuaded Leon to head downstairs to avoid the music that was increasingly of the House variety, which drew a ghetto vibe from nearby Cabrini Green prior to most of it being torn down, and Leon has been down there ever since. Leon can now be found at the Island Bar, strategically placed across from the women's restroom every Friday from 9:00pm to 4:00am and, now, every Saturday as well. Leon is a fun guy and is very friendly so, if you see him, stop by for a chat and you're sure to be entertained. Back at the top of the stairs, you'll find a bronze plaque in his honor glued to the mirror Leon used to sit in front of, which says, "Come here for useless advice on Friday nights."
Editor's Note: Leon passed away in June 2007. It is said he fell off a ladder while cleaning out leaves from the gutter of his four-story Lincoln Park home. Here's a link to Leon's MySpace page. We miss you, Leon!
The downstairs crowd consists of Bachelorette parties that pour in on a disturbingly regular basis, conventioneers, suburbanites – and city folk that prey upon them. It is guaranteed that there will be fisticuffs by guys getting puffy-chested every Friday and Saturday night. This entertainment breaks up the scoping and dancing nicely, as the bouncers swarm within seconds to toss out the offenders. One guy was tossed out recently for having sex with his girlfriend in a stall in the women's bathroom on St. Patrick's Day. It is also guaranteed that you will see several large women with badly dyed blonde hair mackin' with good looking guys. Some of these guys will experience the "Wolf Bite" or "Coyote Ugly," the situation where a guy would rather chew off his own arm to escape than wake up the fat chick that has fallen asleep on it, similar to a wolf or coyote caught in a metal trap. Regarding some of these Hangge Uppe patrons of the female persuasion, a friend once commented, "It is just loud enough so you don't have to hear the insipid comments she makes and just dark enough so you don't have to see how large she is," (J.K.).
The now-renamed Shot Shack is also where a drink called the "Sleeper" was invented. The same people that persuaded Leon to head downstairs, used to go to the Hangge Uppe every Friday night until 5:00am, wake up to brunch and NTN trivia at the Alumni Club on Lincoln (now Finn McCool's), then head out for another night on the piss, and once again ending up again at the Hangge Uppe. The Sleeper was invented during one of these drunken cycles, when one of lads foolishly threatened to go home "early" (read: 3:00am). He agreed to stay, but only for one more drink. "The Sleeper" was the drink he was given. When he asked what was in it, "I don't know – just drink it," was the only response given. Having been hammered already, the Sleeper was the last nail in his coffin. Fortunately, he made it home that night, but he couldn't wake up the next day. For its effect, "The Sleeper" acquired its name. It turns out the Sleeper is made from a concoction of Jameson, Absolut Citron, orange and cranberry juice. The thought of Jameson alone is enough to put me into a coma as well.
A Definite No-No
A special note for those traveling between the Hangge Uppe and other bars on Division: don't pee in the alley between Division and Elm! Several friends of mine have been caught by the police and fined $150. This particular alley is home to a significant portion of Chicago's rat population, and was the site when another friend of mine hurled a bar stool into the pit of rubble that used to be the building housing Ranalli's off Rush and Trader Todd's. Also, while it is the Gold Coast, be careful when you are leaving the Hangge Uppe. There are aggressive Streetwise vendors, guys selling gold chains, people begging for money, and others just looking for trouble. I once almost got into a fight when someone stole my cab, and a friend of mine once got punched in the neck by a guy that tried to pick his pocket. A few years ago, a Michigan man was visiting town and was robbed and killed by the same homeless man he bought breakfast for at a nearby diner. I would not consider the area dangerous, but I also wouldn't be caught hanging around, alone, at four in the morning. Just be careful, stick with your friends and you'll be fine.
Love It or Hate It
The Hangge Uppe is the largest venue (holding up to 500 people) of those brought to you by the Lodge Management Group (LMG). The LMG people are the same ones that brought you the Lodge, Mother's, Mother's Too, Shenanigan's-House of Beer, Bootlegger's, Streeter's Tavern, River Shannon, and Pippin's. Make sure you behave yourself in any one of these places, particularly with the bouncers, unless you want to be put on the black list for all of them. Service at the Hangge Uppe is efficient and friendly. The bartenders and waitresses are quick to treat you as a regular – something many bars claim but few deliver. Just be sure to tip them, don't grab their asses, and don't order a martini. Hangge Uppe's has even drawn a celebrity from time to time including the Beach Boys (just for drinks), Vince Vaughn (part of The Breakup with Jennifer Aniston was filmed here), the now departed Mickey Mantle along with his buddy, former Cub right fielder Bobby Murcer, and Chris Farley was reputed to spend his last night at the Hangge Uppe. How many times have I ended my evening at the Hangge Uppe? Too many. One friend of mine summed it up this way: "The Hangge Uppe is very much like Times Square in that everyone in the world (or at least in Chicago) at one point passes through there." (J.S.) Another friend says: "It just makes me want to vomit. You can feel a palpable sense of desperation in the air," (J.K.). When I ask people if they've been to the Hangge Uppe, I always get the same reaction: a downcast look, slight nod of the head and a sheepish "yes" – it's what I call the "Hangge Uppe Face." Personally, I like to hit Hangge Uppe maybe 1-2 times per year, particularly when the old crew that used to hang there comes into town to leave their suburban family lives behind for a night. If I'm there more often then that, Hangge Uppe quickly becomes my own personal, "Nightmare on Elm Street." Whatever your opinion, the Hangge Uppe is a Chicago classic that lives in infamy and is definitely worth checking out at least once. It's been packed every weekend for almost 40 years for a reason... For more information, check out the Hangge Uppe website. Laters.