A cozy waiting room: the bar at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder
I have made a Discovery, with a capital D. Well, it was a discovery for me, but if any of the many Moth regulars among the 700 or so in attendance at last night’s Grand Slam at Park West are reading this, they’re probably thinking, Yeah—“D” as in “Duh.”
Some background: Several months ago, my friend Shaun, an attorney and running enthusiast, excitedly relayed the tale of how he had won a Moth storytelling competition at Martyrs’. “I told the one about my aunt’s computer screen. Now I’m, like, going on to the championships!” he said. I won’t fill you on the computer screen story, as it’s better suited for a live audience, but I will share what I found out about The Moth Story Slam: It’s a live storytelling competition held regularly in a few cities; in Chicago, it’s the last Tuesday of each month at Martyrs’. Admission is $8, and the contest begins at 8 p.m. Lots of people go—in fact, it’s usually a packed house. And everyone in attendance is either there to tell a true, five-minute story or to listen to other people telling true, five-minute stories. The whole thing is very entertaining, and I can’t believe I had never been before. The next installment is February 22nd. See you there.
Anyway, last night’s event at Park West was a showdown between ten past winners, and The Creative Director and I remained captivated throughout the entire three-hour gig. Shaun didn’t win. He was second in the lineup, and, in my opinion, it would be tough to win if you’re in the pre-intermission batch—voting becomes markedly more enthusiastic the longer the judges drink—but he kept the audience in stitches just the same. His story began “Like most teenage girls, I had a lot of body issues in high school” and recounted how he overcame his chest-baring insecurities while on a college volunteering trip to Finland, where his host family insisted he partake of the country’s naked saunas.
During the few moments of downtime between contestants, when the night’s emcee, Peter Sagal of Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!, wasn’t regaling us with deadpan banter, I thought about where we should go afterwards. Definitely Sedgwick’s, I decided. It was close; we could order food; and even though my memories of Sedgwick’s as a final stop of the night are mostly of the traumatizing variety, last night I was with adults. Plus, it wasn’t a Friday, so overconsumption of the Long Island iced tea special wouldn’t be a problem.
I leaned over to TCD at an opportune juncture. “You know where we should probably go after this? Sedgwick’s.” He shrugged. “I mean, they have wings,” I pressed. “And a pool table.”
“I was thinking Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder,” he whispered back. “Isn’t that right around the corner?”
Enough said. Being The Chaser, I probably should have insisted on a real bar’s bar, but, man, I love that place. I’ve probably sat at every table at least twice and eaten roughly 347 of CPOG’s pizza potpies. So we went, but not without a little bar-related commentary to keep things on track. Exiting Park West, I was glad to see that Vintage 338—the little wine bar on Armitage that opened last summer in what I feared might be a doomed location—seemed to have plenty of customers for a Wednesday night.
As we passed the long-defunct Clark Bar—on, you know, Clark Street—TCD and I shared our most vivid recollections of the spot.
“I got kicked out of there for life,” he said. “A bartender thought we were taking her picture, but really we were just taking our own picture. Then she called the bouncer over. There was a bit of trouble.”
“My mom had a crush on the Irish bartender with the curly salt-and-pepper hair,” I replied. “He was really cute.”
Then, as the wintery wind blew us though the front door of Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder and I beheld its shiny wooden bar with the same quiet and efficient bartender—night after night, year after year—I thought to myself, You’ve probably clocked more hours sitting at that bar drinking Miller Lites than any other bar in Chicago.
And it’s true. Do you know how long the wait is for a pizza?