Chicago is home to many pubs, but one that has left a mark on many is the historic Old Town Ale House. Old Town Ale House has attracted many, from blue-collar men, college kids, and even the more affluent crowd. Everyone wants a pint at the Old Town Ale House, and the pub has something for everyone.
When you step into The Old Town Ale House, the first thing you notice are the paintings that fill about every inch of every wall, made by the part-time owner and blogger Bruce Elliot. However, the bar wasn’t always Elliot’s. In fact, The Old Town Ale House has seen a shift in ownership over the years, before finally finding its place in Elliot’s hands.
Bruce Elliot (left) with author Daniel Vaughn (right), source: Facebook
Over the years, the pub has become a staple spot for many, including those coming straight from the Second City theatre across the street.
Roger Ebert, a well-acclaimed film critic deemed the Old Town Ale House to be “the best bar in the world that I know about”.
“The Old Town Ale House is as close to the Old Town of the ’60s and ‘70s that you are going to find, making it a neighborhood landmark, classic Chicago joint, and generally a pub that you’ll not want to miss,” said Sean Parnell from the Chicago Bar Project.
If you’re in this neck of the woods, then you definitely cannot miss out on a pint at the Old Town Ale House.
The history of Old Town Ale House
The Old Ale Town House was established in 1958 by entrepreneur E.J. Vangelder. Vangelder’s idea for the pub came from his visits to San Francisco, where he often visited the Vesuvios saloon on North Beach. Vangelder was good at building bars and hiring bartenders but wasn’t one for customer relations - due to which he sold the pub to Joe Diaz. Diaz’s ownership immediately ran the bar into the ground, and he sold it in 1970 to Art Klug and his group of Rush Street eccentrics.
Old Town Ale House circa late 1970s, source: Facebook
Not long after the new owners took over, the Ale House caught on fire. Taking with them about forty drinking pals, they carried what was left of the original Ale House and moved it into the middle of North Avenue, through the doors of what once used to be Pete’s Butcher Shop. Thus was born the current Old Town Ale House.
Over the years, the Ale House saw many partners come in and go, but Art Klug always remained. Eventually, Art’s ex-wife Beatrice bought the remaining shares and the two took over. After the death of Art and Beatrice in 2005, Tobin Mitchell, Bruce’s wife, took over the bar, on one condition iterated by Beatrice - no blender, no credit cards. To this day, the pub remains a cash-only spot.
Now, the bar is in the hands of Bruce Elliot and his wife Tobin and is like a second home to many locals.
The infamous walls of Old Town Ale House
After taking over the bar, Tobin started sprucing the bar up and decided to extend the famous Ale House wall mural which was painted in 1971 by Maureen Munson. The mural contains the portraits of fifty or sixty old-time customers. With the help of Elliot’s talents, soon enough, every corner of the bar was covered in pictures of a present or former regular.
One of the most sought-after paintings at the pub is one of Sarah Palin naked, holding an assault rifle while standing on a polar bear rug with harlot red high heels on. Elliot painted the piece right after the Republican Convention in which Sarah Palin was made the Vice Presidential nominee. The painting was first put up as a joke, but in less than 24 hours it went viral on the internet. Once the painting took over the internet, Elliot was interviewed by major TV networks and over a hundred radio stations. That’s where the idea of ‘political porn paintings’ came to Elliot, and many now adorn the wall above the bar.
Some other iconic paintings at the pub include a bare-assed Governor Blago called “Cavity Search”, naked Michelle Bachman holding a tea bag called “Tea Bag Me”, Romney in his Magic Mormon Underwear, and many more.
Bruce's depiction of Blago's first day in jail in the painting: Cavity Search, source: Facebook
There is also a celebrity wall, where Elliot has painted portraits of the famous and not-so-famous stars that used to come in, including Stephen Colbert, Bill Murray, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd to name a few.
Drink and eat at The Old Town Ale House
The Old Town Ale House boasts an array of beers, ranging from craft brews by breweries like Revolution Brewing and Half Acre Brewing Company, to our favorite cult brands like Guinness, Stella Artois, Corona, PBR Tallboys, and more. The pub is also known for bartender Tim’s cocktails, including the classic Michelada. If you’re looking for something off-the-menu, then feel free to ask Tim for one of his ‘signature secret creations’.
Drinks at the Old Town Ale House, source: Facebook
The food menu at The Old Town Ale House consists of small plates and bar food like nachos, tamales, carnitas, and even poke bowls.
In true pub-style, The Old Town Ale House puts down daily specials on a chalkboard, which include the day’s drinks and food.
Location - 219 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60610
[Header image: Old Town Ale House, source: Facebook]