"Knockin' 'em dead since 1933"
Don't let the skull and crossbones on the window fool you: this is not a biker bar. Rather, Jake's is the quintessential Lakeview neighborhood bar while not attracting too many geezers – although you may have to put up with a few four-legged friends.
The establishment now known as Jake's came into the world initially as a candy store operated by Jake Rosenbloom, which conveniently served as a front to the speakeasy next door during Prohibition, a similar legacy to that of the legendary Green Mill, Glascott's, Kelly's Pub, and Lottie's. The original candy store shelving can still be found in the backroom at Jake's. Once the Volstead Act was repealed on December 5, 1933, Rosenbloom renamed the place after himself and started selling booze after obtaining one of the city's first liquor licenses. Jake's sons later took over the business and even started a bartending school after World War II to teach returning GIs a new trade. Jake's Pub was then bequeathed in the early 1970s to one of the bar's regulars, Bob Toothman, who ran the place for 15 years from 7am to 2pm while allegedly bunking on a cot in the backroom. As it was to him, Toothman then passed the bar to regular Scott Johnson following a golf course propososition, and Johnson has since transformed the pub from "an old-man bar, with no stereo, no television, bright as a 7-11 and quiet as a church," to a modern neighborhood tavern, appealing to the multigenerational crowd now living in the area. Having been just down the street from my first apartment in the city, Jake's Pub is a personal favorite of mine for a few pints, particularly after shopping at the Barnes & Noble or Century City Mall down the street, or the used bookstore at Wellington & Clark.
Jake's has 10 beers on tap and 50 different kinds of bottled beer, three different kinds of cider, as well as Schlitz in the can – now that's "Klass" with a capital "K". Jake's also serves shots in "economy size" pints. Once both cigar friendly and with air quality that would rival Woodlawn Tap as one of the worst in the city, Jake's Pub can once again be enjoyed by everyone thanks to the Illinois smoking ban that took effect on New Year's Day 2008.
The crowd at Jake's, like many neighborhood joints in this part of town is an interesting mix of older regulars and young apartment and condo dwellers that are new to the area. Regardless of who you are, there's a pretty friendly vibe particularly with the tea-totalling "Char" behind the bar. Char is like your mom, and she'll even put up a photo of you, taken by 40-year regular Hank with his Polaroid camera, and put it on Jake's "Wall of Fame." What more could you ask for in a bar?
Jake's tavern-esque atmosphere is complimented by its faux floor-to-ceiling wood paneling, variety of taxidermy, and charcoal drawings on the wall. The drawings were made by a local artist, one of which depicts insects getting drunk – you don't see that everyday. Jake's also has a pinball machine, a pool table and darts in the back, and a men's bathroom door with a nasty spring to it (reminiscent of the one at bw-3). And, if you tip big enough, they'll ring the bell for you at the bar. Jake's is a great place if the Duke of Perth is too crowded. You can also stop by while you are walking your dog, as Jake's is very dog friendly.
One word of caution: often in the afternoons, Jake's is home to a dog named Titus. Sometimes Titus gets a bit testy with other dogs, but most of the time she warmly welcomes other by a sniff and a romp. A classic Chicago neighborhood bar is not complete unless there is a canine mascot, like Cody's and Lemming's. In his book, Sez Who? Sez Me, former Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko reminisces about a few notable four-legged friends:
"Some of the best have become legends, such as Bruno, a Milwaukee Avenue tavern beast... One night a robber came in and with one bite Bruno performed a rather crude but effective vasectomy on the felon...
"Then there was Duke of Armitage Avenue, a huge, mean mixed breed that had lost one ear in a fight with a dozen cats... Duke was unusual in that he didn't like to bark. So a teenage burglar who broke in one night thought he had clear sailing. He was emptying the cash register when Duke put his paws up on the bar, stared into the kid's eyes, and made growling, slobbering sounds. When the owner showed up the next morning, he found Duke still growling and slobbering, and the teenage burglar still standing with his hand in the register. The owner swears that the kid's hair had turned pure white.
"But more amazing than that was the dog known as 'Freddie the Freeloader' who once inhabited a tavern known as Big Wally's. He was given the nickname when he, 'wandered in off the street one day and made himself at home, mooching potato chips, boiled eggs, and hunks of barroom pepperoni,'"
– Excerpt from Sez Who? Sez Me by Royko
Freddie the Freeloader was best known for saving an old drunk's life one cold, snowy evening but for that story, you'll have to read the book... If you like Jake's Pub, you may also like Witt's on Lincoln Avenue (between George and Wellington), as they are both under the same management. Witt's, by comparison, is a tad more upscale and attracts a younger crowd especially with its large beer garden and good food, but is also a friendly place like Jake's. For more information on Jake's Pub, check out the Jake's Pub website. Here's to another 75 years, Jake!
Old-School Jake's Pub