Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hangin' with the Greeks...

In the 400 block of lower North Michigan Avenue, there's a hangout that's in many ways been a birthplace. It's the Billy Goat Tavern. And it's all thanks to a goat and a Greek...

William Sianis was a Greek immigrant who bought the Lincoln Tavern in the 1930s. According to legend, he adopted a goat that wandered inside the establishment after falling off a passing truck. From then on, he was known as "Billy Goat" Sianis.

During the 1945 World Series, the Cubs were leading the Detroit Tigers by one game going into Game 4. Sianis didn't want to miss history in the making. Neither, apparently, did his goat, Murphy.

Sianis showed up to the park with Murphy in tow – he even bought a separate ticket for him. Ushers gave Sianis trouble about the goat, refusing their admittance. Sianis appealed to then-Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley, but Wrigley said no. When asked why, Wrigley said, "The goat stinks." In response, Sianis laid down "The Curse"...

"The Cubs ain't gonna win no more."

Sure enough the Cubs lost Game 4, and the remaining games. They haven't won a World Series since... not even an appearance... not even a pennant.

So enough history for now... here's the view as you walk in.

This place was portrayed by Saturday Night Live in the "Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger" skit in 1978. The ambiance is a real treat...

It doesn't matter what you order... you're probably gonna get a doublecheez no matter what you ask for. It's the only restaurant I know of that you, by default, have ordered something without asking and you have to explain yourself to get out of it.

Typical exchange between customer and the staff:

Staff: "Who's next? You want doublecheez?"
Customer: "No, single please."
S: "Why not? Double's better."
C: "Just a single." [laughter]
S: "No, you get double..."
C: [more laughter]
S: "What to drink?"
C: "Coke."
S: "Good. Cheeps?"
C: "No thanks."
S: "Why not?"

It must be a Greek thing... now I know where my family gets it... I felt right at home. I'm not kidding... There's something really endearing about someone givin' you a good-natured hard time.

So go and get the doublecheez, a coke, and cheeps. There's no fries and no Pepsi. Try a Billy Goat Dark at the bar, too. Billy's newphew, Sam, runs the place these days.

And if you're a news buff, be sure to check out all the memorabilia about legendary Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko. The Billy Goat Tavern was Royko's second office... this is where he came to talk with Chicagoans and decide what to write about. He was the voice of the city and well revered by all. He won a Pulitzer in 1972. I can only imagine the party they threw for him that night...
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