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
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
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
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
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
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.