When you read a lot of bar reviews like I do, one begins to notice that bars who are lesser known, yet great places to go, are often referred to as "hidden gems." I have tried to stay away from such clichés when I write about bars I've visited. However, upon visiting Jury's on Lincoln in the North Center neighborhood, I have to say that this place truly is a diamond in the rough. Although it has been in its present location since 1996, Jury's fits nicely into the regentrification going on in this neighborhood, which has also seen a new branch of the Chicago Public Library, a new location of the Old Town School of Folk Music, and numerous great places to grab a meal or a drink. While places like The Grafton, Daily Bar & Grill, and She She have moved in, Jury's will undoubtedly stand up well against the intensifying competition.
In a neighborhood that used to consist only of dive bars like Clancy's, Save More Liquors (liquor store and bar), Margie's Pub, and the Great Beer Palace, Jury's is an upscale oasis at the corner of Lincoln and Pensacola. Jury's is owned by Pete Borkman and Dan Borchers and used to be known as the Jury Room. The original location between 1979-1996 was 2432 N. Lincoln Ave., where Lincoln Station now stands, until the rising cost of rent drove the owners further north. Even though it was named after Jury's Ballsbridge Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, Jury's is one of the few bars in Chicago that doesn't try to exude an Irish theme. In its current location, Jury's replaced a Mediterranean restaurant known as Spice, which was a sports bar prior to that. Today, the upscale atmosphere of Jury's is more of a match for the maturing North Center neighborhood, rather than that of the crowded bar district further south that includes such madhouses as the Gin Mill, Irish Eyes, Bordo's, and bw-3.
My first thought upon entering Jury's, seeing white linen tablecloths and somewhat of an older crowd, was that it has a very similar feel to that of the Twin Anchors in Old Town. What's interesting is that Margie's Pub is just down the road and has almost the exact same sign, with its name written in Olde English-style calligraphy and in yellow lettering, as Marge's Pub which, coincidentally, is just up the road from Twin Anchors. As I walked past, even the interior and clientele at Margie's seemed similar to that of Marge's. Strange, indeed.
I have been past Jury's almost as many times as I'd passed the Beat Kitchen before I went in. To me, I expected Jury's to be either a dive bar like Goldie's (prior to its renovation), or a weird crowd with overpriced food like the now defunct Benedict's (both further down on Lincoln). When I walked up to the entrance, I took a look at the specials tastefully detailed on a chalkboard in different colors. They had about 20 specials listed from lobster dainties to smoked salmon, all priced between $12 and $20. This was a surprise, as my mission was to sample their burger fare to determine if Channel 2 (CBS) was accurate in proclaiming Jury's as having the best burger in the city. With its upscale menu, I had my doubts. As I walked through the old wooden door, I found that the inside of Jury's accurately reflected the menu. Jury's is more of a restaurant than a bar, with a few cocktail tables up front near the windows, and table seating in a carpeted area against the south wall. More table seating is located in the back, in an elevated area, separated from the narrow, busy walkway by a white-painted wooden railing. A nice mahogany bar stands along the middle of the north wall and seems to attract neighborhood regulars and those waiting for a table.
Around the corner from the bar and kitchen window is a white wooden door, through which lies a great patio and beer garden. Several plastic tables and chairs, with their umbrellas adorned with beer logos, accommodate many patrons desiring a bit of open air. The triangular-shaped patio has a wooden floor and is surrounded by a six-foot-tall wooden fence. The brick building opposite Jury's is almost entirely covered with ivy, giving the patio area a nice touch.
The crowd at Jury's tends to be older, neighborhood types that don't mind spending a fair bit on a meal, not including drinks. The place also attracts numerous couples and families that wish to sit outside on the patio, or in the sidewalk caf. The interior of Jury's didn't seem that loud, but was filled with conversation and waitstaff walking quickly, hither and yon.
As for the burgers, they were great. They are of the half-pound variety and cost only $6.95. I had mine with cheddar cheese, and also ate half of my date's which had bleu cheese. Both were excellent. Even the cottage fries were done perfectly. The only other places were I've had as good a burger, has been at the Bull & Finch (the Cheers bar in Boston), Justin's, Toons, and strangely, Crabbby Kim's Bikini Bar. Between the burgers, fries and a few Sierra Nevada Pale Ales in the open air of the patio, I was sated. The laid-back atmosphere at Jury's, combined with a nice selection of beer, red wine, Scotch, port, bourbon, and martinis, is very conducive to having a good conversation and a great evening.
Jury's would be a great place to go, any night of the week. Take your date, your family or even your parents, and you can't go wrong. Owners Peter Borkman and Dan Borchers have done a wonderful job of transplanting Jury's from its original location in Lincoln Park. Hopefully, Jury's will not be on the move anytime soon. For more information, check out Jury's website. Smashing!
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A poem I found while feasting upon a burger at Jury's:
if you will, a life from an old teapot,
uncashed lottery tickets, track medals, holy
cards from Taughty's funeral home, my old
brass soldier found at an outing at the beach, Sister
Veronica's letter of recommendation (we never keep
a box of stick matches, the 50p piece from
Uncle Leonard, candy and gum brittle
with old age.
That gum won't stick any more than the way the rest of my treasures, now scattered across the kitchen table,
have stuck to me down all the years. A lumped knuckle broken
in an ancient barroom battle, arthritic elbows,
an incisor chipped with the wild swing of a sloitar, hair
now grey as a badger and thin as a weasel, a mended
and remended heart, skin grown
thick as life's mysterious stew, simmering for far too long
on the backburner of old grudges.
Some things you have to carry with you.
But let this be my battlecry.
My proclamation of freedom
from the bondage of the past.
Hold tight, me boyo.
We'll burn the town, tear down
the stop signs, we'll drink the baptismal
waters of life and sing of the fuggin
dew that wept down the years hidden away
in an old teapot on the kitchen shelf.
We'll smash that pot
and drink to tomorrow.
And in the morning we'll shiver
at our new found madness,
free at last to enjoy the pleasure
of licking our own self-inflicted wounds.
written by Joe Gahagan, from the Irish American Post (June 2001)