The well-traveled stretch of 95th street on Chicago’s south side sometimes seems like the land that time forgot. Interspersed between the bridal salons and fast food franchises are many bona fide, deeply rooted family businesses with vintage neon signs attesting to their longevity.
Yet, while many “mom and pop” places are still holding their own, several south side landmarks have fallen by the wayside. The legendary Martinique is now a Wal-Mart while a Mariano’s Fresh Market will soon be setting up shop at the former Webb Ford dealership on 95th street.
South side traditionalists were dealt another blow with the recent announcement that Bleekers Bowling Alley and adjacent tavern is closing its doors and will soon become a Binny’s Beverage Depot. Despite the fact that liquor will still be sold at the 3447 W. 95th street location, a sanitized, sterilized franchise is light years away from the familiar joint that has served generations of bowlers, boozers, and packaged liquor buyers.
While Bleekers has been a south side mainstay for over fifty years, the simple fact is that people just don’t bowl like they used to. Those colorfully lettered bowling shirts and smoke-filled league nights have given way to more modern pastimes and pursuits. Yet, there’s no denying that Bleekers is a treasure trove of history and that’s why many were prepared to strike when a demolition sale scheduled for Thursday, August 8.
But the “everything must go” sale came and went after owner Tim Sterk listened to his daughter’s advice and decided that he was acting too hastily. The Demolition Promotions website that first broke news of the sale recently posted that "everything inside the four walls is being sold" at the rescheduled event that begins on August 16 and runs through August 18.
So it seems fitting that the bar stools, bowling shoes and beer signs will still be in place when Bleekers hosts its “Last Blast” in the bowling alley on Saturday, August 10. The all-ladies cover band, Skirt Steak, will be playing by the old ten pins right around 10pm, too.
Evergreen Park resident Susan Mikolajczak O’Donnell can’t skirt around the fact that Bleekers has been part of her life since childhood. She said that she has taken her four children to countless birthday parties and also recalls the good times that she had as an adult in the adjacent lounge.
O’Donnell said her fondest memories of Bleeker’s include “dancing to the awesome jams on the juke box and late nights of laughter for last stops before heading home.” In an area where location is everything, O’Donnell also appreciated Bleeker’s proximity to her home as she noted that she enjoyed those “snowy winter nights when we could walk there for a few," since Bleekers was literally a "hop, skip and a jump away!"
O’Donnell recently hopped over to snap a few souvenir photos of the south side institution and said, “I had tears in my eyes when I walked in the door. Life just keeps changing constantly.”
Although O’Donnell will be unable to make the “Last Blast” on Saturday night, it’s a safe bet that many others will be bidding farewell to the beloved old bowling alley and time-honored tavern before Bleekers becomes Binny’s and fades into history. But it will long be remembered in the south side's collective memory bank.