2251 N. Lincoln Ave. (2250N, 650W)
Chicago, IL 60614
"The King of All Pubs"
Though the Alumni Club on Lincoln was enormously popular, it was transformed into the quasi-Anglo "Lion Head Pub" on the first floor and "The Apartment" on the second floor, back in December 2002. Both attract the same Lincoln Park Trixie & Chad crowd but the Lion Head Pub has put a new spin on the former meat market: the addition of "Table Tappers," specials on all "bomb" drinks, pot roast and cottage fries on the menu, and a fireplace. For those pub aficionados and/or who have traveled to the UK, the Lion Head Pub falls short of being anywhere near an authentic English pub, which it hints at being, but it makes up for it by being a den of inebriation where it's hard not to enjoy yourself whether you're looking to pick up, amuse yourself with those trying to pick up, or simply to get blind.
The Lion Head Pub can be found in the heart of Lincoln Park, midway down Lincoln between O'Malley's West towards Webster and Kendall's towards Belden, and across from Wise Fools Pub. The pub lies at the base of a two story, red-brick building with three bronze lion heads, oxidized green and mounted over plate glass windows with faux copper tile shingling. The lion heads are reminiscent of the pair of lions at the Chicago Art Institute, sculpted by Edward Kemeys. Above the lion heads are four more windows looking out from the Apartment, above which are a series of painted wooden crests. Now that the venue has changed hands, velvet ropes have replaced the revolving door, with an ATM conveniently placed there, and an old-fashioned wooden lion head sign hangs out front with a carved lion's head and gold lettering. Lines start forming around 10-11pm on weekends. Flash your ID to the eternal-bouncer and it's upstairs to The Apartment or through the door on your right to Lion's Head Pub.
"I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany."
– Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman
The interior of Lion Head Pub is decked out in rich mahogany: columns interspersed throughout the room, a long wooden bar that runs most of the length of the north wall, a rectangular wooden island bar on the southern half of the room, a wooden floor with white hexagonal tile around the base of each bar, high-backed barstools with wooden armrests, thick wooden cocktail tables, a fireplace in the southwest corner framed in wood featuring carved lion heads, and wood paneled eastern wall across from the island bar through which you'll find the bathrooms that has an annoying bathroom attendant on weekends. Brownstone, eat your heart out! Let's just hope an errant cigarette doesn't se the whole place ablaze… The green-painted walls are adorned with all things English, including framed British Invasion rock albums, more flatscreens than you can shake a stick at, and an enormous, gold-painted wooden crest hanging on northern wall just inside door. Plush red curtains can be drawn across long metal rods to segregate various sections of the bar when catering to private affairs. The windows overlooking Lincoln open out in summer through which you can observe the nightly Lincoln Park madness. A brown-painted tin ceiling rounds out the décor.
To my mind, the most appealing aspect of Lion Head Pub is the availability of the "Table Tappers." These beer bong-like towers of beer come with 2.5 liters (84.56 ounces) of your choice of ale. The Table Tapper itself consists of a large black base, kind of like a giant rubber cane tip, with a Plexiglas cylinder that stands about two feet tall. The tapper lies in the base and can be a bit leaky, so make sure you have a spare glass. On Thursdays, the Table Tappers feature domestic beer for the ridiculously low price of $10 and micros/imports for $15. There are 18 beers on "draught" to choose from. On a previous visit, no tappers were available, leaving me mired in a state of depression that lasted all night and was only lifted by a visit to Taco Burrito Palace #2. On a recent visit, we were fortunate enough to have arrived early enough to guarantee a Table Tapper of our own. We started off with a tower of Stella Artois that was a phenomenal deal because many other taverns charge $5 for 16 ounces of Stella but ours only cost $15 – that's an $11 savings. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
"Was just talking to Chris and we did the math…We were there from 8pm-2am or 6 hours! 4 Tappers = 32 beers or 10.5 beers each…Not bad work for a week night."
– Fellow colleague and inebriate following a Thursday night session at Lion Head Pub
The food at Lion Head Pub should be viewed, in my opinion, as purely a foundation to soak up all the alcohol to follow. The menu features your standard array of pub grub highlighted by the very un-English "Kobe Sliders" and "Kobe Burger," but they do offer the healthy side of "cottage fries." Lion Head serves a $10 New York Strip ($6 on Mondays) and pot roast sandwich and entrée, the latter of which is actually more representative of traditional American comfort food than anything you'd actually find over the pond. Of particular note is, "Double Wide Friday" that features a fried chicken dinner, complete with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob, all for $2.99. You can add fried Twinkies for a buck and wash it all down with $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon and Old Style while watching wrestling and monster truck rallies. Smashing!
On my last visit, I had the most tasteless turkey burger I ever had but it was accompanied by tater tots and it also fulfilled its purpose of providing a proper foundation – without it, I would have been deep in the hurt locker the next day. Table service is provided by skinny, ditzy waitresses in black t-shirts with "Got Wings?" scripted in white allowing the lads the excuse of, "I wasn't staring at your chest, I was reading your t-shirt." When one of my fellow drinking companions ordered a "Half & Half," our waitress asked, "Of what?" Technically speaking, a "Half & Half" is Guinness and Harp, whereas a "Black & Tan" is Guinness and Bass. She explained that she wasn't sure if he wanted a "Black & Tan" or a "Black & Blue." Black & Blue?! Apparently, people are drinking Guinness and Blue Moon. I shudder to think.
The crowd at Lion Head Pub is exactly as you would expect to find at a Lincoln Avenue bar: Trixies and Chads, Chads and Trixies. Hip-hugger jeans and striped fitted shirts are the rule. I was eyed suspiciously in my cords. As we watched a group of Chads try to pick up on an average looking bird, one of my compatriots blurted out that, while feeling self-conscious about his physical appearance and perhaps not measuring up with the male competition, it really did not matter as it is competition between the Trixies themselves is what really forces them to look better and better while the lads can look as slovenly as they please. He then sat back and laughed. However, it is we men who get it in the end, literally, as what used to fit in those tight jeans becomes exponentially bigger once the knot is tied. It may not be fair, but that's life for you. Conversations at Lion Head Pub tend to center around picking up, the chances of that twat doused in Axe Body Spray picking up that girl, and the inevitable "Who's your favorite band?" discussion.
I was once at Lion Head Pub when literally a busload of women pulled up – all medical students from the University of Illinois at Downers Grove. My friend claimed that he and I were alumni, leading one of the girls to say with half-lidded eyes, "You went to Illinois? I just feel soooooo close to people who went to U of I!" Little did she know that I went to NORTHERN Illinois University – go Huskies! Her friend pulled her away shortly after I asked her if she knew the song "Downtown Downers Grove" by Emo Phillips.
"I was walking down the street
Something caught my eye
And dragged it fifteen feet
That's why I like to shop in downtown Downers Grove!"
– Excerpt from "Downtown Downers Grove" by Emo Phillips
Though the joint used to be Alumni Club, Lion Head Pub is actually a huge sports bar. They've got ESPN Game Plan and NFL Sunday Ticket in Fall, including a variety of squares/guess-the-score contests, as well as your own personal speakers placed at your table to listen to your favorite match-up, called "Fan Cans." Lion Head Pub also supports Texas A&M, as the flag hanging outside would suggest, drawing the Chicago Aggies.
The soundtrack at Lion Head Pub consists primarily of classic rock and alternative, claimed to have been personally programmed by WXRT DJ Bobby Skafish, and serviceable DJs take over on weekends. For those looking to get jiggy with it, you'll want to get things going in Lion Head and then head up to the Apartment afterwards – you can make the move without having to queue up with the hapless souls that didn't get there early enough to avoid the line the bouncers artificially create to make The Apartment look as popular as John Barleycorn's just up the street. More entertainment can be had on one of two pool tables, one up front by the door and one in back across from two electronic dartboards. No self-respecting pub would have electronic dartboards but, considering the crowd, this seems like a prudent trade-off to me.
Though it tries hard with lots of wood and using spellings like "draught" instead of draft, Lion Head is far from an actual pub. If that's what you're after, the closest thing Chicago has to offer is the Red Lion Pub , Duke of Perth , Globe Pub , and one of the Elephant & Castle locations. On the other hand, Lion Head Pub is a pretty good place an an interesting improvement from its days as Alumni Club, the "rock-around-the-clock" Gazebo, and the "early basement" Vibes before that. It unashamedly promotes the abuse of alcohol and that's why the hordes descend upon the area, including yours truly – you simply can't beat Table Tappers! For more information, check out the Lion Head Pub website . Cheers, guv'na!