Players Bar & Grill is an Eastern European's dream cocktail lounge with an impressive variety of European liquor, motorcycle and car racing décor, and imaginative bar fare. In 1996, current owners Mark (a former rally car driver) and Mary Jurczyk have personally transformed the place from a dive bar (formerly Manny's Place) into a nice club. Since the Jurczyks are Polish, they decided to make the Players something both they and their friends would be attracted to.
Players can be spotted by the silver letters stretched down a bright red backdrop of upon the two-story, red-brick building on the corner of Ashland and Altgeld, just around the corner from the Liar's Club. What you'll find in Players is as surprising as a grease-less pierogi...
Step through the glass door and into this hardwood-floored expanse and one of the first things you'll see is a wooden Indian, meant to signify that cigars are available behind the bar. There is also a big screen television up front against the windows, which is usually displaying some form of racing (e.g. a European race, transmitted via satellite). There is a long wooden bar on your right with high-backed black vinyl barstools, and nice table seating opposite. The bar offers all of the standard beers on tap, while the mixed drink selection offers such intriguing concoctions as the Greg Moor Martini and Michael Andretti Stoli Cocktail. Above the tables hangs a half dozen racing flags like Porsche and there are dozens of mini race cars and motorcycles throughout the room, including a large Ferrari model behind the bar. The bathrooms are down the green linoleum stairs and just beyond a rather loungey anteroom.
The backroom offers up additional table seating and some nice armchairs by a fireplace. The windows along the side open out in the summer in addition to the sidewalk café. For the competitive sort, there is a small pool table and a race car arcade machine. Above these hangs what looks like an authentic Indy car suspended from the ceiling ("a great conversation piece," according to the owners), just next to a traffic light in the corner. There is also a large poster of Elvis from the movie L'amour en Quatriemi Vitesse, and a Players Bar & Grill poster depicting an orange crotch rocket superimposed over a pale woman with black hair.
Players also has a good-sized kitchen in the back, serving up escargot, baked brie, crispy baked salmon, breaded mushrooms, diablo shrimp, tilapia, pierogies, buffalo wings, and burgers. All of the food on the menu is homemade, including the sauces, salad dressings, and soups using such natural ingredients as sea salt and sucanat. The only problem with the food is that it may be hard to enjoy with all of the bad dance music in the air.
The crowd consists mainly of older neighborhood types, with quite a few being of Eastern European descent. The place has also steadily attracted more yuppie types, perhaps with the lure of good food, summer beer garden or word "club" in the name. Tuesday nights feature an informal gathering of Ducati drivers capped off with a ride around town (Ducati is a high-performance Italian motorcycle).
For non-Eastern Europeans the place may seem strange unless Formula One racing is of keen interest to you. Otherwise, the racing decorations, Eastern European crowd and staff seem an odd juxtaposition. Regardless, Players Bar & Grill is a great place for a cocktail. Chicago Bar Project recommendation: come for dinner and drinks early and either head to the Polish nightclub extraordinaire, Jedynka on the Northwest Side, or nearby Liar's Club afterwards for eclectic dancing and cocktails. For more information, check out the Player's Bar & Grill website.