The Hungover Gourmet


Bars We Love
by Kathy Mosley

The Gold Star, 1755 W. Division St., Chicago, IL
For about 5 years of my life, the Gold Star was the bar of choice for me and my friends. When I moved to the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago in 1995, it was reaching the peak of its fame as the hippest of the hip urban neighborhoods, and about to tumble into its current exorbitant-real-estate-value yuppie infamy.

Yet the Gold Star survives and has not changed. In 1995 it was surrounded by decrepit apartment buildings, empty storefronts, a liquor store and a few other bars and restaurants. Seven years later, the Gold Star still maintains its rough-around-the-edges appeal, despite now being surrounded by sushi restaurants, expensive fashion boutiques and luxury condos. The bar has been open since the early 20th century, and the no-longer-lit neon sign indicates a somewhat swankier past.

By the 1960s, though, it had degenerated into a girlie dance bar and the upstairs apartments were occupied by prostitutes and drug addicts. Supposedly even a few murders took place in and around the bar during these volatile times, and some ghosties are rumored to appear once in awhile, though I have never personally witnessed anything.

The Gold Star, for me, was a really easy place to hang out. I never felt like I was out of place, or that I was under scrutiny by everyone as soon as I walked in the door. No one came to "see and be seen," and it wasn't a huge pick-up joint, either. The shiny girls didn't come there to meet their slick stockbroker boyfriends for martinis. Everyone came casual and had a good time with their friends. It was never so loud that I couldn't have a conversation (like Lounge Ax), or so smoky that I couldn't breathe (like the Rainbo) And even at its most crowded, it was never claustrophobic. The bartenders were never surly or had that "I SUPPOSE I can get you a beer" attitude that can be so irritating at certain places.

The decor was extremely utilitarian: formica tables and mix & match chairs; a ratty, sagging, couch; a pool table; an excellent CD jukebox; a rotating selection of artwork by neighborhood artists; and the de rigeur big wood bar with a huge mirror and built-in cabinets behind it. All the best Chicago bars have one of these. Bar bathrooms can make or break the experience, at least for me. A super-disgusting bathroom is a huge turn-off, because when you're drinking beer, you can't just hold it until you get home.

The bathroom at the Gold Star was by no means sterile, but it was pretty clean, as bars go. I think it was also the tiniest bar bathroom I've ever been in. The men's room has my favorite bathroom graffiti ever, which was reported to me by my friend Dan: "Billy Corgan blows dogs for wine change." I have nothing against Billy Corgan, really, but I laugh every time I think of it. I don't know if it's still there, but I hope so.

I never drank to the point of being blotto at this particular bar. But there certainly was drinking involved. Don't ask me to tell you the difference between beers except whether I like them or not. I'm no connoisseur of the fermented brews, so I will not be able to give you a dissertation on the length and breadth of their beer selection. But it seemed like they had a lot of different kinds, and generally not super-expensive as many places were becoming. You could buy a round of beers and maybe get change back from a $10. Some nights I switched from beer to my old standby, the gin & tonic, but I avoided consuming both types of drink on the same night. This was a lesson learned from bitter experience.

Most of the time I went to the Gold Star with the aforementioned Dan, who lived across the street from me at the time. Sometimes his neighbors Brian and Elana joined us, sometimes our long-lost friend Darrin came along too. It was a place we could all go on the spur of the moment for a couple beers, or hang out for the whole evening for someone's birthday or a zine release party. It was only a four-block walk, so no one had to be the designated driver and we didn't have to worry about parking.

Over the last two years or so, my bar visits have become increasingly rare. Now I live in the Logan Square neighborhood, much too far from the Gold Star to make it a regular trip. The last time I was there was last spring. Dan and his wife Mike and I stopped in after dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant. It was still the same old place, much to our relief. We each had two beers, played a few tunes on the jukebox, watched some folks play pool, and then headed home.

Kathy Mosley is a longtime THG supporter and the editor of the fabulous zine SemiBold. Issue #8 is available for $2 (ppd) from 1573 N. Milwaukee Ave., #403, Chicago, IL 60622.

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