We lost Bozo’s Circus and Ray Rayner. Comiskey Park is now just souvenir rock fragments on basement shelves, and Marshall Field’s and the Magikist signs are singing with the commercial choir invisible. But there’s still a verdant patch of real, old-time Chicago at 1800 West Division Street: Phyllis’ Musical Inn. Bought by accordionist Phyllis Jaskot in 1954, it has had the same wacky piano-keys-and-top-hat wallpaper behind the original bar, the same tin ceiling, and the same family running it for going on 68 years.
The bar hosted polka bands in the ’50s, as did dozens of other taverns along Division Street. Chicago writer Nelson Algren probably drank there, in his rounds on what was then known as Polish Broadway, says owner Clem Jaskot Jr., Phyllis’s son. In the ’80s and ’90s, the tavern became a jumping-off point for alternative bands like Veruca Salt and Algebra Suicide, and a meeting place for artists, writers, political organizers, filmmakers, and other assorted bohemians. It remains a great place for new music and good company at cheap prices, on an increasingly tony, gentrifying strip.
What keeps it going? Mark Blottner, a documentarian and member of the bar’s 16-inch softball team, credits Clem and his wife, Ilene, who create a family atmosphere and sense of community. “It’s a no-bullshit shot-and-a-beer bar, but it’s got a tender side, a sensitive side,” Blottner says. “Young people come in there and don’t feel pretention.”