Buying Low

[from Reservoir / February 28, 2007]

It’s Tuesday. It’s cold. It’s snowing worse than it has in years. Who needs a drink?

Apparently everyone, if this crowd is any indication.

The Stocks & Blondes calls itself the Loop’s neighborhood bar, and to a point that’s probably true. While the heart of downtown isn’t exactly known for its residential life, the cast of characters here reads as widely as any establishment in this city.

The lecherous old men who looove their waitress. The guy sitting alone with his head in his hands. The hip-hop guys trading notes on who does what tougher than the other. The girls’ night out. The office guys playing Golden Tee. The cougars out slumming it for the evening.

I notice the young man and young woman sitting together at the end of the bar, both wearing ID badges from the same company. I recognize the look on his face; he likes this co-worker friend of his.

I recognize the look on her face, too. Don’t get your hopes up, buddy.

The location beneath the ‘L’ tracks, the low ceiling, the $2 tall boys of Old Style, PBR and High Life, the wall adorned with police and fire department patches, the air so smoky you strain to see across the room – who knew places like this even existed anymore? And better still, who would’ve guessed they’d find it in the Financial District, of all places?

Bridgeport or Beverly maybe, but here in the shadow of the CBOT? Never.

They’re not big on drink specials here (save for the aforementioned 16-ouncers on Monday and Tuesday), but a different food special comes up each night. While most of the menu is nothing to rave about, there are a few health- and veggie-conscious options as well as the famous-to-those-who-know-it $8.25 Wisconsin Fish Fry on Fridays.

Spirit and bottled beer selection is that of your standard stocked bar, but the draft beer selection has a decidedly Midwestern slant to it, starring Chicago’s own Goose Island and the full lineup of Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company, including the hilariously-named Burning River Pale Ale.

Also on hand is S&B’s own five-element, $5 rum punch: 1 part each of Captain Morgan’s, Malibu, an undisclosed white rum (my guess is Bacardi since the drink lacked the foul aftertaste and forced gagging that comes along with the Castillo and Aristocrats of the world), cranberry juice and pineapple juice.

While that stretch of the Loop isn’t much of a “neighborhood” per se, the minds behind the Stocks & Blondes have managed to keep alive a Chicago bar style that was, for all most know, long since dead. How much of a neighborhood tavern is it? So much so that the old regulars’ names are engraved onto plaques along the bar in front of their customary stools.

Part of me hopes ‘Bud’ doesn’t get upset that I was in his seat for so long, but something tells me he won’t.

Located at 40 N. Wells, Stocks & Blondes is open 11 a.m. – 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday.