Stadium West’s crawl from just another neighborhood dive to the vegan-Korean-food-cheap-beer haven known as Dragonlady Lounge (3188 N. Elston Ave.; 773-597-5617) has been a slow and stealthy one, but, with its name change last December, the metamorphoses is complete. And what a work of wacky, wonderful goodness it is.
For those who’ve never heard of the bar (still “Stadium West” if you go by the proper sign hanging outside; look for the hand-painted “Dragonlady Lounge” poster taped in the window), the spot began life 23 years ago as a vaguely sporty tap in Avondale. Over the last few years, however, the longtime owner and resident dragonlady, Sue Chong—known to regulars simply as “Sue”—has worked her wiles on the space, which now falls somewhere between dive bar, Korean grill, and sorority rec room. The maroon walls are dappled with gold stars; a jukebox dishes out nine plays for $2; Wheel of Fortune buzzes on the TV; Mike Ditka paraphernalia and icicle lights hang behind the bar; and a collection of food photos, taped to the wall near the kitchen, serves as the sole menu.
And then there’s Sue, a real spitfire, who dishes up veggie Korean eats, all the while explaining why her steamed kim chi dumplings ("spicy") are better than hamburgers ("poison"). On Thursdays she lays out an all-you-can-eat buffet, which costs either $7.50 or $9-something; she couldn’t remember which. I got the sense that the dumplings and vegetable pancakes we ate a few days later were reheated leftovers, but they were definitely homemade, satisfying, and overwhelming: Sue decided we needed extras.
Beer offerings speak to both the grizzled old timers who still wander in and the increasingly prevalent hipster population (Sue’s dedicated Yelp following refers to her as a surrogate mom): Miller High Life for $3; Tecate, Goose Island 312, and Blue Moon for $4.50. There’s nothing on draft, but there is hot sake, as well as the Dragon Slayer, a $2 premixed shot of amaretto, triple sec, and club soda that Sue assured me “doesn’t have too much alcohol in it.”
If you don’t enthusiastically haul yourself off of your barstool to consult the pictorial menu, you can be sure Sue will give you an earful on her bi bim bop. Listen to the dragonlady. Your beer-soaked self will thank you.