My favorite neighbor is a bar

June 6, 2012

I live in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, an area I find charmingly real, or realistically nice, or whatever combination you want to come up with to describe “urban” and “neighborly.”  I feel like it represents the whole of the city more than a few neighborhoods further to the south of us, but is also safer and more stable than a particular neighborhood directly south of us.

Like with any part of town, we experience good and bad neighbors. I am grateful for our neighbors who water our plants while we’re gone, the neighbors who seem to know our dog and the neighbors who somehow have their fingers on the pulse on those secret goings-on in the area.

I am not quite as enamored with our one neighbor who practices a freestyle version of trash disposal – where he leaves unsecured boxes and bags of trash in the alley and then blithely claims they’re not his problem when they get strewn everywhere (while somehow, everyone else on the block has figured out a way to keep their trash safely in the garbage cans).

But my favorite neighbor is Ollies Lounge, a dive bar that we never go to. We’ve patronized Ollie’s maybe only two or three times in the four years since we’ve lived in Edgewater, which kind of makes me sad, because tell me these Yelp and Citysearch reviews of the place aren’t tantalizing:

Ollie’s is the quintessential dive bar. You go to Ollie’s, relax, listen to great music, bop your head to the beat, eat peanuts and enjoy your cocktail. Ollie (the owner) is the sweetest lady you ever want to meet. The lady at the door is also pretty awesome and has the coolest hair style.

Dive. Dive. Dive! Ollie's IS the place you can go when you feel like letting it all hang out and not having to dress up. Here you can get a drink, listen to music and not be bothered by the BS of the rest of the celebrity wannabe world.

The perfect stop and shot. But beware: Alcoholics abound. Also, vampires.

Went in for the first time last night and was hooked. Sweet owner, cheap drinks, peanuts (a la Texas roadhouse), nice folks and, best of all, R. Kelly in heavy rotation. I even saw my alderman in there. Only reason I'm not giving it five stars is because you can't lock the men's door and I'm not trying to have my thang out for the world to see.

I arrived here around midnight after drinking my way up Broadway. My friends and I fell in with a welcoming table of hard-partying ladies celebrating a birthday... in ten minutes we were posing for pics together and daring each other to join the steppers on the dance floor.

I was the only white person when I walked in, being from Alabama, I was very intimidated. I was about to back out when Ollie herself invited me in for a drink. The bartender and patrons alike were warm and friendly. I made fast friends and stayed for hours longer than I intended, telling jokes and swapping life stories. Two years later I came to this bar again with a friend who worked nearby. Ten minutes into a game of pool, Ollie came out to give me a hug and ask how Chicago was treating me. How could she have remembered me? I felt right back at home.

We just don’t go out to bars that much, though, and if we do, it’s typically to a further afield, because if we’re going to drink that close to home, we’ll just drink at home and more cheaply. But the fact that we don’t go to Ollie’s often doesn’t stop us from loving it. As the reviews said above, Miss Ollie is a neighborhood institution herself. “There’s Ollie!” my husband and I point out whenever we see her on the street, often meeting the driver of a Miller High Life semi in the early morning.

We like Ollie because she’s sweet, because she runs a tight ship (for a fun-filled dive bar directly across the street from us, Ollie’s and its patrons are remarkably polite and quiet at night) and because she sometimes puts out dog treats, which our greyhound appreciates. Last holiday season we gave Ollie a plastic box shaped like a Christmas tree filled with Ferrero Rocher chocolates just because we wanted to say thanks for being in the neighborhood. I don’t think she knows us, but she probably semi-recognizes us when we walk by, especially if we have the dog.

The dive bar feels a bit like the guardian angel of our neighborhood. Cops cruise our street often and thanks to the couple of times we accidentally hit the “panic” button on our alarm system, we know we’d quickly get help in an emergency, but sometimes I think that if our place was on fire and I ran out of the house in my pajamas, I’d run to Ollie’s.

Who are your favorite nontraditional neighbors? If you want to join in the discussion of neighbors further, I’ll be chatting about it with Steve Edwards on the Afternoon Shift. today