There’s been a trend in nightlife lately of proprietors opening new bars, or revamping old ones, to resemble hard-bitten, careworn dives from day one. The Pony Inn (1638 W. Belmont Ave.) is not part of that trend. Granted, the bar is co-owned by Mark Domitrovich of Bucktown’s charmingly tattered shot-and-a-beer staple Lottie’s Pub (1925 W. Cortland St.). And, yes, it sprang from the ruins of the dingy, diminutive music venue Gunther Murphy’s earlier this summer in West Lake View/Roscoe Village. But divey it’s not.

"The place was in such bad condition," says the 37-year-old Deerfield native Domitrovich, who first started gutting Gunther Murphy’s in late 2006. "I lived across the street for seven years, and there wasn’t a decent place to go watch a game." Domitrovich and his partners decided the area could use a cleaned-up neighborhood tap, but "neighborhood" didn’t have to equal grungy. The renovated pub features hickory planking, a copper-fitted bar, brown leather booths, wrought-iron light fixtures, and enough plasma TVs to please a fraternity. Although it’s apparent the owners put some serious cash into the spot, the bar may not stay fresh scrubbed for long; the neighborhood is already providing gentle wear and tear. "There’s a lot of spillover from the Southport corridor and young people renting in the area," Domitrovich says of the clientele.

That explains the group-friendly menu of shareable treats, like the 12-inch grilled cheese that serves four to six ($9) and the signature Pony flight ($10): a 7-oz. Miller High Life,
16-oz. Coors Silver Bullet, and 22-oz. Colt 45. The music, pumped as loud as the lighting on a recent visit, is equally familiar, with DJs spinning mostly classic rock on weekends. Come October, an upstairs bar will provide additional space for horsing around.

Photography: Chris Guillen