I haven’t been to Carol’s Pub for a decade, but it will always be the emotional naval in my personal version of Chicago’s heaving swollen abdomen. So to speak.
Carol’s Pub is what snobs would call a “dive bar,” but what I would call a “neighborhood tavern.” It’s a humble watering hole on a busy street corner in a residential neighborhood. The décor hasn’t changed since about 1985, and the taps probably haven’t been cleaned many times since then, but nobody at Carol’s is going to sneer at you for wearing off-label sneakers or an insufficiently ironic t-shirt.
Carol’s is more than a standard Chicago working-class saloon (an endangered species in general) – it’s a full-blown honky tonk, with a live country-western band that plays on weekend nights until 4 or 5 a.m., week in, week out.
I haven’t been there in a long time, but during my first year in Chicago, I was at Carol’s three or four nights a week. Weekends were the best, because Diamondback would play, but weeknights were the best, too, in a different way. Those were the nights you could relax at the bar and watch a Cubs game with a hot dog (free on Tuesdays) and a mug (or five) of Old Style and shoot the shit with the transplanted Appalachians who ran (and run) the joint.
I’m not sure why I haven’t been back to Carol’s Pub for so long. It’s only a few blocks south of my apartment, past a big dark cemetery and the ruins of the Kinetic Playground, and within Hail Mary distance of the beautiful Our Lady of Lourdes Church. My Carol’s drinking buddies sort of drifted away, and I never replaced them. And it hasn’t occurred to me to make it a purposeful destination … I guess because I used to end up there so often by default, without any effort at all.
There’s just no excuse or good reason. So I’m going to go back there at least twice this week and see what’s changed, and what hasn’t. In terms of both of us. If anything interesting happens, I’ll let you know.