Simon's Tavern was born in the era of massive discrimination, poverty, prohibition and fancy cruise ships. Wait—what? Yep, put all these together, mix in some glogg in the winter months and you've got Simon's, called N&N, for "No Norwegians," in the 1930s. Who knew Swedes could be so hard-assed?
Opened as a speakeasy joint in 1929 (and then closed in 1933 with the end of the Prohibition), original owner Simon Lumberg used to cash paychecks in the upstairs booth behind bulletproof glass. Partially modeled on the Normandie, the day's popular cruise liner, the bar is lined with portholes and some seafaring memorabilia is spread throughout, giving Chicagoans a landlocked version of the luxury they'd never be able to afford.
Ask for owner Scott Martin and request the nickel tour. If it's not too busy (as it often gets on most evenings and during weekends) he'll be happy to show you the upstairs booth and answer all the questions about the mural lining the walls—including why one of the characters has been chopped out, causing the painting to crack and peel away.
Enough of the history, let's deal with the now. Low lit and extremely casual, Simon's features cans of Schlitz for $2.50 and drafts of PBR every day for $3. The jukebox is a strong contender for top 10 coolest in the city, and live music is featured on an irregular schedule. Classic formica-topped tables and padded chairs provide seating if you can't grab a seat at the long, dark bar, which runs the length of the room. Hungry? Grab some food from any number of the nearby restaurants and bring it in; the barstaff has no problem with it.
Starting on Thanksgiving Eve and running until spring rears its head, Simon's is one of the few places to feature glogg, a mix of brandy, port wine and grain alcohol, served warm with raisins and slivered almonds. At $4 a glass, it's great for those frigid evenings and has a kick that will clear your stuffy little head.
Centerstage Reviewer: Karl Klockars