A formula has emerged on the Chicago bar scene. If I were writing a screenplay about the trend, it would be titled There Will Be Antlers. And yet I have seen no signs drinkers are tiring of ye olde gastropub—save one. After I forwarded my boyfriend a string of opening announcements promising “farm-to-table eats,” “local craft brews,” and “rustic tavern” atmospheres, he replied with this lament: “Pretty soon this city is going to look like Colonial Williamsburg.” So I let him off the hook when I visited the Brit-by-way-of-Wisconsin-themed Bangers & Lace, instead recruiting a group of Gold Coast pals who rarely venture west of Clark Street.
“Are we almost to Schaumburg?” Tim asked as we pulled up to the bar, which is in fact located on the Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village border. I thought I knew what to expect—after all, I’ve been to every bar and restaurant already owned or designed by these guys (Nightwood, Bar Deville, Angels & Kings, and Duchamp among them)—but what I saw when I walked in the door stopped me in my tracks.
“Wow, this place is gorgeous,” my friend Robert said as we got our bearings. And it was: delicate lace curtains, a mahogany communal table lined with Shaker-style chairs, oversize Edison-bulb fixtures, and, of course, an enormous deer head surveying it all from the wood-paneled back wall. Soon Adrienne, a waitress with flowing flower-child hair (“She looks like a Bohemian Ivanka Trump,” Ricky said), brought us menus. After a glance at the lengthy beer descriptions, I decided to eschew reading in favor of personal assistance from the cicerone (translation: beer expert), Ria Neri, who recommended Brewery Ommegang’s Rare Vos ($7). It was a light, not-too-hoppy option that paired well with the considerable spread of food we tried. The unintimidating prices sent us on an ordering spree that included hot links (Louisiana-style, wrapped in puffed pastry; $8), the Sheboygan (a veal brat with Gouda and sauerkraut; $8), and the crowd favorite, a truffle grilled cheese made with Irish white Cheddar ($7). As this was a catching-up mission among friends, we relished the absence of TVs (the two above the bar were turned off) and the conversation-friendly volume of the music and chatter from the stylish young Wicker Parkers surrounding us.
Two-word bar names separated by an ampersand are beginning to wear on me a bit, but Bangers & Lace won me over with both its explanation—“bangers” refers to the sausage-centric menu, “lace” to the veil of beer foam that lingers at the top of your glass as you drink—and its execution. I have no doubt there will be a line to cross the threshold by the time this issue goes to print, but if I could ask anything of the owners, it would be this: Please don’t let B&L meet the shoulder-to-shoulder fate of similar establishments. As long as the hipsters come in waves, not hordes, I’ll be back to this bloody good pub.
Bangers & Lace 1670 W. Division St.; bangersandlacechicago.com
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8 Number of across-the-pond imports at Wrigleyville’s brand-new British pub, Blokes & Birds (3343 N. Clark St.; blokesandbirdschicago.com); try Wells Banana Bread Beer ($6).
16 Number of Brit beers as of presstime at Owen & Engine (2700 N. Western Ave.; owenengine.com), yet another new UK-style tavern across town in Avondale. Elliott Beier, the—you guessed it—cicerone, also recommends a Wells beer, the Bombardier ($6 for 20 oz).
Photograph: Chris Guillen