Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's Always 11:45 PM in Chicago: The Skylark

Nick, Bartender Extraordinaire @ the Skylark, Chicago
Skylark Bartender Nick who not only looks as though he should work in a boxing gym in the 40s, but also recently played one on stage. Nice moustache, Nick.

If ever there was a bar that made me want to spiral off into a Bukowskian barfly bender, slouched in the corner writing poems about flies, making derogatory comments about women and attractive people and drinking cheap whiskey, the Skylark is it. It’s not that the Skylark is covered in dirt and grime, or packed with bar sluts and Johnny Ginblossoms, it’s simply the atmosphere. It's always 11:45pm in the Skylark. Were Chicago a city that still allowed smoking, the Skylark would be in a perpetual fog of nostalgic cigarette smoke. However, appearances can be deceiving as, hidden behind the half burned out 10 watt lamps and cracked linoleum floor is an excellent, always changing selection of beers and one of the best kitchens in Chicago’s shabby-chic hip-kid haven, the Pilsen neighborhood.

While there is a set menu at the Skylark including some of the best burgers the south side of Chicago has to offer, the real treat is their ever changing specials menu which runs the gamut between Moroccan lamb stew, ahi tuna steaks and my personal favorite, t-bone steak.

As a self proclaimed master of the grill, it has been my mission, nay, obsession to perfect the t-bone and, while I have gotten rather good at it, there is no substitute for the Skylark’s t-bone. Juicy, with just the right amount of fat to keep the flavor in-tact, not too much salt and just enough pepper, this steak is like the cover of “Kings of Metal” by Manowar, standing atop all its competitors, sword in hand, lightning crashing down. Epic.

While the kitchen is a pleasant surprise, the integral function of the Skylark is a dive bar. Dark, cavernous booths yawn along the wall as you enter, a few dim lamps and some neon from behind the bar provide the only illumination. Towards the back of the bar, a lonely pinball machine stares down a photobooth. During the day you can usually find some shabby scholar reading Giles Deleuze through precariously perched bifocals as he takes down his third pint.

At night, Pilsen’s good looking art kid population shows up. James Brown and Wilson Pickett go on the record player (yes this bar has a record player, no juke box, just a record player) and tables get cleared for dancing, most of which consists of that old hipster classic: “slightly swaying while spilling PBR all over the floor.”

Perhaps one of the best things about the Skylark is something it lacks, rather than something it has. No televisions blare in any of the Lark’s darkened corners, one feels as if one might have stepped through time back to an era when people went to bars to have conversations, or a quiet drink, without being distracted by the outside world. Also conspicuously absent from the Skylark is the air of pretension which generally accompanies dives where good food meets the art set. The bartenders are laid back but efficient, the patrons, from what I have noticed, seem to simply mind their own business instead of trying to prove something about their wardrobe to the rest of the bar and the mood is always one of affable drunkenness.

The Lark is as close as I’ve come to finding a Gold Standard for dive bars. And believe you me, I’ve seen a lot. From the food to the booze to the crowd to the music, the Lark has got it figured out on all fronts.

The Skylark
2149 South Halsted
Chicago, IL

Tap: PBR plus a rotating selection of good stuff (Lagunitas specials, Great Lakes, etc.)
Bottle: Seems decent.

One of the best dive kitchens I’ve ever seen. Moroccan lamb stew, great burgers and, of course, T-Bones.

TVs: None!
Bar Games: Pinball, Photobooth

Attractive art kids, old men reading books, lots of ties.

Jukebox: No jukebox, just a record player and a bunch of bartenders with taste.
Live: Apparently there is live jazz on Saturdays, I have yet to verify this, though, perhaps I will have to make another trip.

Bukowskian Chicago Dive

Seems pretty decent, PBR’s cheap, generally have beer specials, food is about average for Chicago.


The Lark is, as I mentioned before, one of my new favorite bars in the world. Dark and drunk and fun. Check it out in the afternoon for a quiet pint or at night for the crowd.


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  2. Skylark? An arrogant, trendy, hipster hangout.
    No thank you.

  3. Best dive in the city, the home away from home.