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Embarking upon Chicago’s ‘Tiniest Bar Crawl’

From the Saturday, Nov. 19, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Embarking upon Chicago’s ‘Tiniest Bar Crawl’

The WISCH LIST

Nov. 19, 2011

It’s nicknamed “The City of Big Shoulders,” but Chicago has a lot of tiny joints nestled throughout its sprawling streetscapes, too.

And this past weekend, on the suggestion of my girlfriend – who happens to be pretty tiny herself – we decided to explore a few of them in the nooks and crannies on the city’s North and West Sides.

You can call our adventure the “Tiniest Bar Crawl in Chicago,” partly because it took us to only three places, but mostly because it featured some of the city’s smallest bars, including the smallest of them all.

By a pretty large margin.

Tiny Lounge

Early on Sunday afternoon, our little journey began with brunch at Tiny Lounge, located about at 4352 N. Leavitt St. in the city’s North Center neighborhood.

Once upon a time – 1999 to 2006, to be exact – Tiny Lounge existed at a different location about one mile south of its current one until the Chicago Transit Authority leveled the place to build a new Addison Brown Line station.

Fans of that nightspot, known for its dimly lit and heavily padded booths, as well as its robust drink list, were heartbroken. But, in 2009, their wounds were salved when Tiny Lounge reopened in its new location, which features the same booths, same lighting and same impressive drink menu – surrounded by a sleek new decor.

On Sunday, I passed on the Tiny Stacks and the Tiny Burgers in favor the Tiny Omelet, which wasn’t small, but was quite delicious. And after paying the tab, we hopped a cab and headed three miles southwest to Logan Square, home of our second small destination.

Small Bar

Located at 2956 N. Albany Ave. on a block so residential that it even left our cabbie confused – “You said there’s a bar down here?” – Small Bar is actually part of a family of watering holes all under the same name.

The other incarnations exist on West Division and West Fullerton, but North Albany’s Small Bar, nestled in the hipster haven that is Logan Square, offers the “smallest” feel, if you will.

From the outside, it looks like a brick neighborhood joint you’d find in Anytown, USA. But inside, behind a bar boasting fantastically intricate woodwork and a warm, cozy atmosphere, there’s a drink list that offers up the exotic likes of New Belgium Lips of Faith Clutch and a powerful cinnamon beer called Stone Vertical Epic 11.11.11.

After watching the first half of the Bears game at Small Bar and wondering why the littlest places always seem to have the best beer lists, we were off to our final tiny stop.

The Matchbox

By billing itself as “Chicago’s Most Intimate Bar,” the Matchbox isn’t trying to be romantic. It’s just telling you that it’s small.

Really small.

Located at 770 N. Milwaukee Ave. in River West, the Matchbox features a long bar with a single row of stools. In front, t its widest in the front, it’s about 10 feet. In the back, at its narrowest, a mere three feet, which can make the trip from the front door to the restroom quite the challenge.

The triangular building is actually the shape of a book of matches on its side. But when its original Israeli owner opened it during the 1940s, current owner David Gevercer explained, “I think … his English was not very good and that’s why he called it the Matchbox, not knowing the difference between a matchbox and a book of matches.”

No matter its name, the bar might be a claustrophobic nightmare for some people. But, for anyone who loves Chicago’s quirks and curiosities, it’s a huge treat.