Saturday, May 12, 2012

Morrie O'Malley's/Schaller's Pump

As of late April, I have completed my training and am now an official Chicago Greeter, with a laminated badge, business cards, cap, and polo shirt to prove it (hope they don't eventually regret letting me into the club). For my first ever tour, I was tasked this past Thursday with showing a pleasant chap from England around town. A baseball enthusiast (yes, a pretty rare breed in the UK), he had decided to spend his 30th birthday in Chicago seeing the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, sampling our humble city's tourist attractions, and doing other things as varied as taking the train to Milwaukee (for a Brewers game) and trucking out to Woodstock to see the town square where the majority of the Bill Murray flick "Groundhog Day" was filmed (had I met up with him sooner, I might have attempted to talk him out of this). Although he was aware that we have two major league baseball teams in town, he had a little trepidation about going down to the South Side (having heard stories back home about notoriously crime-ridden public housing that's now mostly demolished) for a White Sox game, so I offered to walk him around U.S. Cellular Field and Bridgeport so he could see the neighborhood for himself.

We started further east along the lakeshore at Soldier Field (home of the Bears since 1971) before hopping on the El and disembarking at 35th Street. One lap of the Cell and a short walk later, we arrived at Morrie O'Malley's (corner of 35th and Union) for lunch, home of one of the better Chicago-style hot dogs on this side of Madison Street. Morrie's is not a big place (mostly outdoor seating) and is only open during the warmer months, primarily to serve hungry Sox fans before, during, and after games just down the street. We both opted for the standard hot dog combo: a Chicago dog with everything (mustard, relish, tomatoes, onions, pickle, cucumber, sport peppers, and celery salt), homemade fries, and small soda, all of which were tasty if not pretty representative fare of hot dog stands all over town. I most appreciated the framed picture of old Comiskey Park hanging on the wall, which I was able to utilize as a visual aid for my guest.

After our nosh, I wanted to stop by Bridgeport's oldest (and, allegedly, Chicago's oldest) tavern, Schaller's Pump (3714 S. Halsted), continuously serving drinks to South Siders since 1881 (they don't have a website, but the link here takes you to a great description of the place by the Chicago Bar Project). Much like the similarly-aged Ramova Grill up the street, the classic-yet-unadorned interior of the bar belies its rich history. Located literally across the street from the 11th Ward Democratic Headquarters (home to more than a few prominent Chicago politicians over the years), one can imagine how frequently the elder and younger Daley mayors must have conducted business dealings (clandestine and otherwise) inside (you can see pictures of both of them on the walls). The front door is for decorative purposes only, so we had to enter on the side near the parking lot. My English friend wanted to try a beer that he wouldn't be able to find back overseas, so I suggested Old Style (not exactly my favorite, but about as close to a local beer as we were likely to find in this joint), which was served to us in cans by a bartender who was more than likely a member of the Schaller family (running the place since Prohibition ended). According to rumor, the butt steak sandwich is a house specialty that may warrant a return trip - for now, we were content sipping our barley shakes and admiring the ancient cash register behind the bar. All told, not a bad way to spend a few hours on a Thursday afternoon....

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