Along with having one of the more interesting names for a bar in the city, Resi's Bierstube is also notable for being one of the last, and best, German brauhauses in the city. "Bierstube" means beer hall in German, and it wasn't too long ago that there were more of them than you could shake a stick at in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood and elsewhere on the North Side. Now that Zum Deutschen Eck, the Golden Ox, Schulien's, Augenblick, Von Stuke's Hofbrau, and even Heidelberger Fass have gone, Resi's is one of the few remaining places where you can go for a Schnitzel and a Hefeweizen. It's continued existence is not by luck Resi's Bierstube has an impressive selection of German beer and authentic dishes, has one of the best (and least known), beer gardens around, and you can't beat Resi's atmosphere for German kitsch.
Intriguingly nestled between the office of a podiatrist and a dentist's, Resi's is located on Irving Park Road across from another German bar known as Laschet's Inn. While located south of the German neighborhood of Lincoln Square, these two bars make up there own little version of Germantown in the North Center neighborhood. Resi's can be spotted with its Germanic façade, flower planters, shingled roof, and white walls with crisscrossing wooden beams. Walk under the old wooden sign depicting Resi's coat of arms, step through the frosted glass double-door entryway bedecked in Oktoberfest posters, and you'll enter a piece of 70's Germericana.
While my first time in Resi's was in 2001, it still has the same feel as when it opened in 1965 by a German carpenter named Horst who named the bar after his wife Theresa, for whom "Resi" is a Bavarian nickname. Herbert and Ingeborg Stober then bought Resi's in 1971, an immigrant couple originally from Karlsruhe, Germany. Today, most of the décor at Resi's is from the personal collection of Herbert Stober, including the intricately carved wooden beer wagon, given to Herbert Stober by the Pschorr Brewery in Munich (prior to its merger with the Hacker Brewery) for selling the most Weiss beer in the U.S. In fact, Stober was the first to import Weiss beer from the Pschorr brewery into the U.S. and the bar still specializes in about 20 varieties of Weiss beer. Stober was also the first to bring Jägermeister to Chicago. The building housing Resi's has served as a bar at least since 1913 when it was a tied house for a local brewery and was reputed to have been a speakeasy owned by a cohort of Al Capone during Prohibition, as well as a book-making operation because of the plethora of phone lines found in the basement by subsequent ownership.
Resi's still has the same yellowed drop ceiling, linoleum, beer coasters, murals of Germany, and profane regulars perched upon padded maroon, high-backed chairs at the end of the bar to prove it. In fact, Resi's is one of the few remaining Mike Royko-esque neighborhood joints where it is not uncommon for one of the regulars to receive a personal call on the bar's phone, for them to drink along with the bartender (or barmaid for that matter), or for football or hockey to be on both TVs. While the crowd primarily consists of old German immigrants and middle-aged blue-collar workers, there are increasing numbers of young condo dwellers and immigrants from Poland, Romania, Latvia, Greece, Ireland, and Mexico that have recently arrived in the neighborhood. The resulting mix is completely void of the pretension so often found elsewhere.
Many of the regulars were nothing short of stunned when those involved in a 2001 pub crawl known as "Sweatfest" came in. Sweatfest consisted of a horde of pub crawlers dressing up in their finest sweatpants and sweatshirts in the middle of summer. Resi's will never again be the same. Laschet's Inn, O'Donovan's, Benz, and Grizzly's Lodge suffered the same fate. Ironically, Goldie's lucked out even though Sweatfest participants would have blended in there nicely. The same organizers of Sweatfest organized a toga pub crawl later that year, creatively referred to as "Togafest," a Miller High Life party (the "Champagne of Beers") in February 2002, and a bad coat pub crawl near the end of 2002.
The carpeted front room is filled with wooden tables with stacks of beer coasters, orange upholstered banquet-style chairs, and oddly shaped booths also orange. A variety of German beer signs, coats of arms, beer barrels featuring German brewery names, paintings of the old country, and other random oddments hang on the wood-paneled wall. Stained glass lights with chains hang from the white drop ceiling supported by wooden beams and German oompah music hangs in the air (along with bossa nova, surf guitar and an eclectic selection of music). A menu hangs on the back wall and depicts a list of beers on tap and in bottles. I didn't realize it was outdated until I had written down the name of every beer. Alas. A collection of ceramic beer steins (mandatory for any decent German establishment) and postcards of bare-chested and scantily-clad women in bathing suits line the wooden beam that separates the bar area from the kitchen and bathrooms. The postcards compliment the dizzying array of beer coasters mounted to the wall behind the bar. While all of this adds up to a very comfortable, very German atmosphere, the fluorescent lights began to burn my brain after awhile leading me to believe that fluorescent lights, or any bright lights for that matter, have no place in a bar. It just isn't right. Nearby Benz didn't ever figure this out, and look what happened to them...
A small wooden sign over the doorway humbly advertises "German Food." Resi's sausage-heavy menu includes Kassler Ribchen (smoked pork loin), Frikadelle (a hamburger-like meatloaf, served well-done), Hackepeter (German steak tartar), potato pancakes (served with applesauce and sour cream), Jägerschnitzel (pork schnitzel with a brown mushroom gravy), bratwurst, and knackwurst. I can personally recommend the Rahmschnitzel, smoked Thuringer sausages and Hungarian-style goulash (when available). A nice breadbasket with rye bread gets you started. Just remember to be easy on the horseradish as it will kick your ass if eaten in anything more than the slightest quantity. Dinner entrees range in price from $8 to $15, and include soup or salad (the split pea and tomato rice are highly recommended). I say: skip the salad. You're at a German restaurant, not the Corner Bakery. As for lunch, I once called up Resi's: "Are you open for lunch today?" "Ve're never open for lunch! Ve open at 3:00 and serve food after 5:00!" The kitchen is also closed on Mondays, perhaps because the cook typically has a big weekend. Since Resi's only has seven tables in the front room, you'll want to arrive for dinner early to avoid a wait. This wouldn't be so bad if you can get a seat at the bar but, if you're stuck in the aisle, you may be plowed over by a stout waitress loaded down with heavy platters. The service is best described as direct and occasionally friendly, and can be slow.
What to drink? The choice is difficult with over 40 different beers, though Resi's used to boast more than 200 until their distributor cut down their selection in 2007 because of the rising Euro. One can still choose amongst Warsteiner, Hacker-Pschorr, BBK, Kutschen Alt, Paulaner, DAB, Spaten, Westmalle, Franziskaner, Gösser Dark (my favorite), and Julius Echter, just to name a few. Weiss fans will also appreciate that Resi's was the first to offer weiss beer in town, and have a few on tap and several more in bottles today. Twelve other beers are also available on tap and are served in $5 half-liter glass steins. Even Miller Lite is served in elegant glasses. Still hungry? They sell chips behind the bar, which are displayed near a miniature beer wagon pulled by eight tiny horses with the word "THINK" written on the side. Thought-provoking indeed. Resi's beer wagon certainly gives the circling Budweiser Clydesdales sign a run for its money. There are also miniature German, Chicago and US flags, a plate, a record, a thermometer, postcards depicting scantily-clad, foreign women, and a shingled, wooden bar overhang framed by two miniature kegs. A sign above the bar reads, "Man hat kein Schlitz, denn hat kein bier," reminiscent of the one at the Green Mill (written in Polish): "If you don't have Schlitz, you don't have beer." Three metal coolers in the back next to the pretzel machine are stocked with what few German beers they don't have on tap and a few trophies.
In addition to the atmosphere and the beer, Resi's has one of the best beer gardens in the city. There is plenty of room, and there are never annoying, heaving crowds like at Sheffield's. Seating is available at a few picnic tables and green plastic tables and chairs. Two large maple trees, matching the one out front, grow through the cement. These trees shade patrons by day and offer a nice glow at night from old-fashioned Bitburger and Erdinger lanterns mounted upon them. A tall wooden fence runs along the beer garden's eastern perimeter, and is dressed up nicely with wooden planters laden with flowers. More flowers are located in red wooden planters mounted to the brick garage that makes up the beer garden's north wall. A few potted plants even hang from the trees. Resi's has also affixed a large plastic bottle cap on the aluminum siding of the building next door so that it fits in a little better with the cozy German ambiance.
Today, manager Richard Stober keeps Resi's going in spite of many other German restaurants and bars closing, and continued competition from Laschet's Inn, Mirabell, the Chicago Brauhaus, and Huettenbar. Resi's was recently selected "Best Bar in Chicago" by Maxim Magazine and was described as, "small in space, large in spirit," and rated seven out of ten for food and circuses by James Ward in his ABC-7 News restaurant review. Resi's was also featured on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in 1996 as part of their Chicago broadcast, with Conan and Andy singing German drinking songs with the regulars. On a weeknight, anytime during the year, you can't go wrong at Resi's. Sehr gemmüetlich!
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Photo courtesy of Josh Cheney