The busy bar at McGee's
The old college try: Braving McGee’s 25-cent wing night

One of my favorite ways to spend a night out is to begin with something glamorous—the kind of party where your eye shadow glimmers in the soft light of the chandeliers and you fill up on endless Champagne top-offs while exclaiming that the flower arrangements are really altogether spectacular—then switch gears, ditching the heels for flats and wrapping up with something at the opposite end of the spectrum.

“Where should we go? I mean where could we go that we never go?” I asked my friend Jenny Tuesday night as we left a party celebrating Chicago’s 50 Most Beautiful at L2O in Lincoln Park. (Can you imagine? The 50 Most Beautiful in one elegant room, all dressed to the nines? You could catch confidence just by clinking glasses with them.)

“It’s not a Thursday, but in college I used to live for Thursdays at McGee’s,” Jenny said. “It’s been a decade. Let’s see how the place has fared.”

I generally avoid McSomething’s- and O’Other’s-type watering holes, but that’s a hard rule to follow in Lincoln Park. Besides, Jenny is one of those people who can reminisce without boring her audience in the least, even if you weren’t there when the memory was made. While driving west on Webster Avenue, she told me, “We used to park all the way over here, because there was never any parking.” There still wasn’t. “We would routinely cross Halsted Street clad in khaki skirts and those black rubber platform sandals with the wide nylon straps across the top,” she said. “They had zero style whatsoever!” I remembered. I wore them, too.

Red Bull and barbecue sauce: That’s what McGee’s smells like on a Tuesday, a.k.a. 25-cent wing night. The bar was packed with DePaul students and the recently released gnawing happily from baskets while balancing entire rolls of paper towels in their laps. We nabbed two stools at the front bar and ordered vodka sodas from a bartender so young and sweetly befuddled I imagined him to be in the midst of a midterm breakdown.

“I heard the worst pickup line of my life in this bar,” said Jenny, who also confessed to wearing a “Property of Slim Shady” T-shirt to McGee’s on occasion, prompting fraternity types to approach and introduce themselves as Eminem.

“Let’s hear the line,” I said, my pen poised to record it. She told me. “Oh. I can’t write that.”

Two guys with guitars began strumming a decent cover of the Joe Cocker version of “Feelin’ Alright,” which edged our conversation into shouting territory. “I used to look forward to Thursday nights with all my heart,” Jenny professed as we watched the bartender pour a drink that involved Bud Light, Red Bull, and orange juice. “It was $1 beer night.” Turns out it still is.

Down the bar, two men whom I estimated to be near age 28—one with a beard and a booming voice that made it impossible not to eavesdrop—were engaged in a heated rehash of a wedding they’d recently attended. It seemed they were rather put out by the whole thing. They rolled their eyes and recounted the boredom they’d felt during the ceremony, and then a young woman approached and asked if she might trouble them for a bar stool. Her friend was expecting and needed to sit down, she explained.

The men gave up both stools, but the exchange launched them into a new realm of put-uponedness. “She better not be just pregnant,” muttered Beard Guy. “She’d better be a freaking beast.”

Jenny’s eyes widened, and I sensed a counterattack on behalf of all womankind about to spill forth. I swiftly changed the subject while shooting my most poisonous glare.

“The party was fun, right? The beautiful people, they’re a lovely group, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes! In fact, I learned something from the beauties tonight,” Jenny said.

“What’s that?”

“People who have nothing to prove? They’re very nice.”