Certain attributes are evident in most Chicago dive bars; a drop tile ceiling, a worn tile floor, wood paneling, an old wood bar, a juke box and pool table, and Bud and Miller neon signs and posters intermingled among strings of holiday lights and Bear/Bulls/Cubs/Sox/Hawks paraphernalia. Most likely no food is served except for bags of chips or pretzels, beer and the hard drinks are reasonably priced, and cash is the only method of payment accepted by the bartender, usually a down-to-earth veteran of both sides of the bar with a name like Marge or Sally. Does J&M Tap live up to these lofty expectations?
Yes, J&M Tap dutifully reflects the the stereotype of what a Chicago dive bar should be. Nothing really makes J&M stand out amongst the multitude of dive bars. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Located at 957 N. Leavitt at Augusta, J&M has no exterior signage proclaiming its name on the brick facade. Possibly because the bar is located on the corner of a residential street. However, two neon signs in the front windows hint that this is a bar. Established in 1974, it's been owned by two brothers Jim and Mitch (hence the J&M name) ever since.
Bartender Hertha (like Bertha with an “H” instead of a “B.”) has worked at the Tap for four years. Hertha relates that the usual customers are old school locals and young hipsters, which was reinforced by the people who were drinking and shooting pool on a Thursday night. For daily entertainment, a pool table, a juke box with a wide spectrum of artists like GNR, the Bee Gees, and Public Enemy, and four high definition televisions await. Sunday nights usually are movie nights where patrons bring in DVDs of classic movies like “Attack of the Mushroom People.” Hertha remembers that there once was a kickball team, but doesn't know if it's still active.
The menu consists of .50 to .75 bags of chips, complementary pretzel sticks in mugs spaced evenly across the bar, a bowl full of free hard candy that appears as though it was lifted from an elderly grandmother's home, and $1.00 Rolaids or Halls. Free pizza and bar-b-q is brought in during Bears games-J&M considers itself a Bears bar and the pennants and full-size Bears helmet support this idea. A local tamale vendor made a quick appearance but quickly bailed when no one took him up on his offer of hot tamales.
Domestic bottles are $2.75 and imports will set you back $4.75. High end drinks run around $6.00 with the price dropping down to $4.00 for well substitutions. But there are plenty of specials everyday. Mondays are $3.50 “you call it” with the some exceptions for high end brands. Tuesday offers $2.00 domestic bottles and cans. Wednesday's bargain is the $1.75 PBR drafts and $5.00 pitchers. $3.00 Stella Artois can be had on Thursday. Friday brings $3.50 Stoli Vodka drinks in a variety of flavors. On Saturday $3.00 Corona products and Maker's Mart shots are available, and Sunday Jameson and Jim Beam shots are $3.00 while domestic bottles are $2.00. A pretty nice slate of specials should help any drinker soak their liver at affordable prices. And when the bar is trying to get rid of the remains of a bottle, $2.00 shots are offered until it's emptied. Tonight $2.00 shots of Chocolate and Coffee tequila were the bottles being cleared out.
What's special about J&M Tap? Not too much. As Hertha put it, the Tap is a “good place to hang out and drink.” And that just may be enough of a hook to get you and drink. That and the fact that the men's room is one of the best smelling lavatories you'll encounter in a dive bar. Lavender anyone?
957 N. Leavitt (at Augusta)