In 1966, "The Original" Yak-zies was opened by Ken Miller, next to The Brewster Building and near the northeast corner of Diversey and Pine Grove. Of the two Yak-zies locations (the other being on Clark), the Diversey location is more of a drinking den and meat market than its sporty Wrigleyville brother. Located half a story below street level, it has all the charm of your uncle's basement. There is plenty of wood, exposed brick, and free, heavily-salted popcorn.
After descending a few cement stairs, you'll find Yak-zies nestled into the lower level of a Moorish two story building, below yellow and black awnings. The bouncer at the door cards everyone, so have your ID ready. This same bouncer makes it difficult to steal glassware. However, on a cold winter night I was with a few friends and as we left the premises and were walking down Pine Grove, one of my friends asked, "Aren't you guys drinkin'?" As he said this, he pulled out a half-full pint of Leine's from his enormous jacket the same jacket that once served as a surrogate bar over at Lakeview Links when last call was announced at an all-you-can-drink New Year's Eve bash.
If you're short on cash, don't worry about it there's an ATM just inside. And, if the main rectangular bar near the door is too crowded, head to the bar midway down the room. Yak-zies is the smallest drinking establishment that I know of in Chicago with two stocked bars so close together. While the place is small, there's a fair amount of seating around both bars and at elevated tables all around the room, all within eyeshot of at least one television. A few years ago, Yak-zies encroached on close to 180 square feet of the parking lot next door (formerly a Chinese restaurant that burned down rather suspiciously) to create a street level addition and add some much needed room to what has always been an exercise in the efficient use of drinking space. Hopefully, someday they'll also add ventilation.
"Yak-zies is the place to be if you want someone to spit in your drink, expose himself to you, insult you to your face and then ask you for a tip. That's right, the bartender is the drunkest person in the room on any given night."
Shecky's Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002
Yak-zies serves a decent selection of pub grub, which isn't cheap but you get a lot for what you pay for. The service, on the other hand can be hit or miss, as the waitresses can often be seen hitting on guys at the bar, slowing up your order. Yak-zies's specialty is the buffalo wings served mild, medium, hot, and "Oh, my Gosh," with homemade bleu cheese dressing. While I think bw-3 has better wings, they are the favorite of Sun Times restaurant reviewer Pat Bruno. Yak-zies also uses their tasty hot wing sauce on their "Chicago Tang" burger. In addition to the wings and Tang burger, I also once had the most massive breaded chicken sandwich I have ever pushed into my face, and it was fan-freakin'-tastic. Only the Chicken Saltimbocca sandwich at the Newport Bar & Grille (a.k.a. Saga Launder Bar) surpasses Yak-zies's noble poultry efforts. The dumbwaiter operates flawlessly, carrying food orders and dirty dishes up to the kitchen on the "second" floor that is really more of a landing for patrons heading to the bathrooms. My advice: next time you go to the can at Yak-zies, have a game of Galaga afterwards, located across from the kitchen. Other than at Bird's Nest, I don't think there's anywhere else you can go in Chicago to play Galaga. If you've played Galaga before, you know why this is important. If you haven't, let's just say that Galaga is one of the best arcade games of all time. Only Gauntlet comes close but that game requires at least two people playing simultaneously.
Yak-zies joins places like Deja Vu, Nick's Uptown, Tai's Til 4and Hangge Uppe's as one of the few bars open until 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on weekends. In fact, the logo (as seen at the top of this page) depicts the sun rising over the horizon of Lake Michigan about five a.m. on any given Sunday. A sun which, like you or I, has spent the early morning hours imbibing in this underground hive, complete with bloodshot eyes at half-mast and an ice pack on top of its head "The morning after." For extreme, hard-core drinkers, there is a "gentleman's club" across the street that will only let you in if you know someone there. No, it's not a strip club, but rather a local hang, especially for people that work late-night at other restaurants and bars. I believe the staff at the Irish Oak can get you connected, if you really want to trash your liver.
Almost equally as entertaining as Galaga are the conversations heard at Yak-zies, particularly as the night wears on. I once chatted with a girl that turned out to be a psychologist and a teacher who loves the night but not all the drunk people she finds in it. She claimed that 20% of anything is not significant, because "significant" actually means "majority." She also claimed that there was nothing interesting about bar life, but that people are merely "unpredictable" when alcohol is involved. If she only knew some of the stories I have heard or been a part of, she might have changed her mind (either that or be completely horrified probably the latter). The only other bullocks I have heard that comes close to this was a girl I met at the Liar's Club that seriously claimed that Indianapolis is a better city and more fun than Chicago.
Please note: the following story is not for the squeamish. An English friend of mine (whom we warmly referred to as "The Limey") and I once headed over to Yak-zies Diversey for same late night action. While short, balding and poorly mannered, The Limey was a pickup artist, particularly because of his accent. "Where are you from? What are you doing here? How long are you staying?" were the stock questions always asked of him by the ladies. Once he convinced his prey that he made a lot of money and was here for the long-term, it was painfully easy for him to get in the door with Chicago girls and this night was no exception. He met a redhead at the bar and took her back to his place, which consisted of a mattress on the floor and a jungle music playing on the stereo. His usual strategy was to take all his clothes of as soon as he had the door closed, sometimes even before. On this night, he started snogging the girl while his clothes were off and all hers were on. She started having doubts about the situation, especially as she explained that she had a boyfriend and was feeling guilty. "Can you stop doing that?" she asked as, while listening to her blather, The Limey proceeded to keep Mr. Happy at the ready, if you know what I mean. She was out of there as quickly as it took for her to be picked up.
Due in part to its legacy, Yak-zies was spotlighted in David Mamet's play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, which was later the basis for the movie About Last Night with Wheaton native Jim Belushi. Yak-zies was also known to attract even the legendary Cubs' first baseman, Mark Grace, from time to time. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
"We come to Lincoln Park all the time and stay at the Inn at Lincoln Park. In the middle of the night around 3am, period started, motel had nothing and I didn't either. We always go to Yak-zies! We knew it was open late! I ran across the street, got what I needed in the bathroom and had a few drinks, Michelle is the greatest!"
S.K. (March 22, 2006)
If Yak-zies is not your speed, check out the Galway Bay Irish Pub next door for a quiet pint or some Irish music. Yak-zies on Clark also appeals to the more sports-minded. Yak-zies even opened up a third location on Lincoln, which has since become Finley Dunne's, and the "new" (ish) third location can be found in Pompano Beach, Florida. For further information, including a menu and specials, check out the Yak-zies website. And in case you were wondering, the name "Yak-zies" supposedly comes from something Ken Miller's child said as an infant, presumably while spitting up or filling a diaper...
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The Notice Posted on the façade of Yak-zies:
(Click to enlarge)