If you squint your eyes, you can almost see Ashton Kutcher and the gang from That ’70s Show leaning against a high-top table at The Anthem, a new Ukrainian Village bar that soft opens tonight. (The official opening is tomorrow.)
There are a few modern marvels—two giant projection screens and an assortment of 50-inch flat-screen TVs tuned to sports (and ESPN Classic at non-game times)—but The Anthem’s motif is an unabashed nod to the decade that gave us the Ford Pinto and Aerosmith. It’s a big and open room with a giant American flag strung from the rafters, a foosball table (soon to come: Team USA bubble hockey), an L-shaped bar modeled after a 1970s station wagon, and wood paneling on the walls that harkens back to the basement dens of yesteryear.
While most of the bar’s twenty- and early-thirtysomething patrons are probably too young to remember much about the heyday of bellbottoms, the 1970s spawned all four members of the bar’s ownership group—Matt Eisler, Jason Freiman, Kevin Heisner, and Nick Podesta—the same guys behind Bangers & Lace, the spot down the block with the cicerone and swank sausages.
Last night at a friends and family preview, Eisler evoked the era in a plaid shirt and a down vest. “I like being here because I can drink a Budweiser and there’s no judging,” he said.
Unlike the curated craft beer list over at B&L, The Anthem offers what Eisler calls “an anti-fancy, blue-collar menu” that includes a refreshingly pared-down selection of $4 drafts, cans, and bottles—Miller High Life, Tecate, PBR, and Schlitz among them—plus a few slightly more adventurous bottles (Anchor Steam, Bell’s Two Hearted, Weihenstephaner Hefeweiss, and others) for around $5 or $6. “Craft beer is amazing,” Eisler says, “but you can’t drink it all day while you’re watching a game. You need a knife and fork to get through some of that stuff.” The Anthem’s food menu is 1970s all the way: cheese doodles ($5), fish sticks with waffle fries ($11), hamburger mac ’n cheese ($11), daily TV-dinner-style specials, and the tour de force, a fried Twinkie with Oreo cream ($5).
Eisler, a onetime hockey player, says The Anthem is working toward becoming an official Blackhawks bar, and tonight’s game (Hawks vs. Canucks at 9) should pack in a crowd of neighborhood fans.
And what of that name with the winning ring? “There are a few references,” explains Eisler. “The national anthem is played before every sports game. We’ve got our massive flag, the Stars and Stripes, and you’ll never hear any Top 40 music here. It’s going to be a lot of classic rock—the anthems of our generation.”
Photograph: Barry Brecheisen