When Big Ten students complete their four years of eligibility, but want to keep partying, they move to Wrigleyville, a neighborhood as crowded with college bars as any off-campus strip in Madison or Ann Arbor. It’s a Midwestern rite of passage.
On Tuesday night at Slugger’s World Class Sports Bar and Grill, the Indiana bar near the corner of Clark and Addison, Evan Caldwell and his pals Zach, Jack, and Alex are drinking green beer, downing shots, and watching their Hoosiers play the Wyoming Cowboys in an NCAA Tournament First Four play-in game. They’re all recent Indiana University graduates, and they show it by dressing in red.
“I think Wrigleyville is the younger area,” says Caldwell, 26, who got a job in risk management after graduating from IU in 2020 and shares an apartment with two Purdue grads from his hometown of Fort Wayne. “It’s by the Cubs’ stadium, the bars are open until 2 or 3 a.m. You might as well go back to college before going back to work.”
Ari Strauss, a co-owner of Sluggers, graduated from IU in 2006, came home to Chicago, and helped transform his family’s bar into a party pit for his classmates. “SLUGGER’S IS HOOSIER COUNTRY!” declares a promotional screen, right next to “ASK YOUR SERVER ABOUT CHEESE CURDS TODAY!”
“I felt compelled to make this the only Indiana bar in Wrigleyville,” Strauss says. The bar, which has been owned by the Strauss family since 1985, is in a perfect spot to attract Hoosiers: “Chicago is the center of Big Ten Country. All the Big Ten grads, if they want to move to a big city, you move to Chicago. The younger demographic tends to live their first couple years in Lake View and Lincoln Park.”
Here’s a Census of Big Ten graduates in Chicago, according to LinkedIn profiles:
1. Illinois – 118,770
2. Northwestern – 54,010
3. Purdue – 36,767
4. Indiana – 36,146
5. Wisconsin – 35,158
6. Iowa – 24,803
7. Michigan – 18,958
8. Michigan State – 18,952
9. Ohio State – 9,191
10. Minnesota – 6,656
11. Penn State – 5,032
12. Nebraska – 2,812
13. Maryland – 2,570
14. Rutgers – 1,987
Nine Big Ten schools were selected for the NCAA tournament, more than any other conference. Most have alumni bars in the neighborhood, says Strauss, who helped us identify them.
- Michigan State: The Stretch, 3845 N. Clark St.
- Wisconsin: Lottie’s Pub, 1925 W. Cortland St., and Will’s Northwoods Inn, 3030 N. Racine Ave.
- Purdue: Waterhouse Tavern, 3407 N Paulina St.
- Iowa: Merkle’s Bar, 3516 N. Clark St.
- Ohio State: Old Crow Smokehouse, 3506 N. Clark St.
- Michigan: Duffy’s Tavern and Grille, 420 W. Diversey Pkwy.
- Minnesota: The Other Side Bar, 2436 N. Clark St.
- Penn State: “Who cares?” (There is an attitude among old time Big Ten fans that Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland will never be true conference members. A Rutgers bar in Chicago sounds like an absurdity.)
“Interestingly enough,” says Strauss, “the only one you can’t find is Illinois. An Illinois bar in Chicago would be like a Bears bar. It’s hard to find Illinois, and it’s hard to find Northwestern. You can just go to Evanston for Northwestern.”
Indiana beats Wyoming, 66-58, much to the relief of Zach, who wagered $200 on the Hoosiers at -3½, even though he knows as well as any gambler that you should never bet your favorite team. In the game’s final minutes, Zach stands anxiously with his hands on his head and strokes his chin. When Indiana hits a free throw to go up by seven, he shouts “Three can’t beat me! Three can’t beat me!”
The victory means Indiana advances to the real tournament, as a 12 seed against Saint Mary’s, at 6:20 p.m. on Thursday. It also means more business for Slugger’s.
“We’re going to be packed on Thursday,” Strauss predicts. “I think we’re a good fit for Hoosier fans. There’s nothing pretentious about Sluggers, and there’s nothing pretentious about Bloomington. It’s a good place to kick your feet up and wear what you want to wear, like you were in college.”