Lemming's is a Bucktown classic, but I'm not sure why. It's not that there aren't some very cool taverns in Bucktown, because there's plenty:Map Room, Charleston and Gallery Cabaret, just to name a few. And it's not because Lemming's is overrated, because that would be contrary to reality. Instead, Lemming's is simply one of those places where you immediately feel at home, even if you don't have the tattoos, piercings and/or spiky hair to match that of some of the regulars. At Lemming's, there's plenty of character, characters, good beer, and enough to keep your interest while you fell a few pints.
If it weren't for its primo spot on Damen, just down the block from my favorite French restaurant Le Bouchon and "douche bag-free" Whiskey Road, and up from the comfort food-laden Silver Cloud and six-corner madness at North, Milwaukee and Damen, Lemming's would be quite difficult to find with its humble green-painted wooden sign and plain brick façade. A lone neon Schlitz sign shines quietly in a small window surrounded by the glass blocks they seem to love so much in Bucktown.
Step through the wooden plate glass door and a polite alterna-bouncer will check your ID. There's a long wooden bench where people dump their coats just inside your door, so drop yours off there unless you want to show off your leather prior to heading down to Northside. Grab a seat at one of the cocktail tables along the southern wall, or on a barstool at the long wooden bar opposite. The fairly large beer selection stands at about 40 and is detailed along with monthly specials upon a black chalkboard hanging over the bar. If you're more in the mood for a cocktail, you might want to note that, according to Shecky's Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002, "Whoever designed the drink menu had the personality of a bowl of oatmeal and the specials tend to revolve around whatever the bartenders feel like making that day." Additional entertainment can be found on a few TVs around the room, glowing between artwork painted by local artists, or on one of the boardgames found behind the bar. Lemming's also occasionally hosts special nights featuring cult movies and Japanese anime. A classic, pressed tin ceiling rounds out the dark décor up front.
There's also a room in the back that sports a pool table, exposed brick walls, barstools against a wooden ledge for drinks against the north wall, a cigarette machine, and a Golden Tee in the southwest corner. Lemming's doesn't serve food, but you can nab a bag of chips from behind the bar, and the music played by the staff tends to be of the college radio station variety, often featuring lesser known yet beloved alternative bands.
If one were to allow me to reminisce for a moment, I must say that Lemming's was a brilliant nightcap for a very romantic Valentine's Day 2003. My wife and I, dating at the time, wrapped up a decadent yet inexpensive meal of pâté, frog legs and duck, all of which was washed down with a bottle of Bordeaux and topped of with a crème brûée magnificent. As we are far from the hoity-toity set, we decided to come down to earth over at Lemming's and wrapped up the evening by polishing off a few cans of Schlitz superb!
Lemming's is far from flashy, with regulars wearing just about anything except an air of pretension whether they're from the artsy Bohemian crowd or the more recent dot.com condo dwellers. Even that night, when we stood out in our fancy dress after Le Bouchon, the crowd seemed more impressed than resentful. Maybe it was more to do with those in the bar that night, but I don't think so. Every time I've been to Lemming's, there's always a laid back vibe making it a great neighborhood joint in the same manner as Gannon's Pub, Four Moon Tavern, Guthries Tavern, and Black Rock, and the ideal place to discuss whether or not the name of the bar serves as a subtle discourse on society. The joint is even dog-friendly. What more do you want? Lemming's fans will also want to note that the owners have recently opened both the Green Eye Lounge and Underbar, so check those out as well. Until then, have a Schlitz on me (figuratively, of course).
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Photo courtesy of Carl Stumpf