On Western Avenue, near Augusta, multiple glowing Old Style signs beckon drinkers to enter the establishments that wait just below their brightness. Sportsman’s Club is one of those places. However, entering Sportsman’s Club isn’t as easy as you would think. No, it’s not the “hot spot” in Chicago's Ukrainian Village with people lined up, waiting to get in. It’s the actual act of walking through the door that’s the problem.
After a couple of tugs it appears that the windowless wooden door is stuck, and then it crosses your mind that maybe the place is closed. Looking through the grated windows is a challenge. Why won’t the door open? Because it’s always locked. But before you decide to leave, bartender Elizabeth peers from beyond the grates and decides to open the door…or not. Elizabeth is from Poland, and although she’s been at Sportsman’s for thirteen years (eighteen in the U.S.); there is definitely a language barrier. Apparently Elizabeth is cautious and will check out potential patrons before allowing entry.
What awaits potential drinkers? Well, a pretty basic tavern. To the right are alternating new black and tan upholstered bar stools in front of a Formica topped wood bar, with mirrors set into vintage wood shelves behind the bar, and a small Polish flag in the center. The two toned tan walls have the usual array of Bud Light, Bud, and Becks mirrors and neon which brighten the dimly lit bar. Two tube televisions are at each end of the bar, one of which was tuned to a Polish network. Opposite the bar there are a few tables and chairs along with the juke box that randomly breaks the silence by automatically playing music-this time with one of the Polish songs which dominate the playlist.
In the rear of the bar there is a Strike Master Bowling game (one of those old games where a heavy metal disc is slid on a slightly sanded game board “knocking” the pins down), two video poker machines (for amusement only) and a full size refrigerator, a table, and a microwave. While chips are sold, substantial food is not usually offered, but on special occasions (Halloween, New Year’s Eve) Elizabeth may cook for the customers. Now on this Thursday night, with the only customer being an obvious regular who spoke Polish and seemed to know Elizabeth well, it may not seem that this place is jumping on those special nights. Don’t tell that to Elizabeth, because she has the photos to prove it. Dozens of photos. You also may get to see some family photos.
There are no drink specials, although Elizabeth is quick to mention 5.6% alcohol Okocim Beer from Poland. The bar taps do not work. Bottled beer is $2.75 for domestic and $3.50 for imports. Drinks run from $2.75 to $4.00. For those on the go, a six pack cans of imports sell for $11.00, $8.00 for domestic, and for the more frugal drinker $7.00 Old Style. Gordon’s and Smirnoff vodka can be yours for the road; $23.00 for the standard size, $13.00 for a pint, and ½ pints for $7.00.
While Elizabeth says that “everyone comes” to Sportsman’s, more than likely this is a local’s bar and a little haven for Polish immigrants. If you live in the neighborhood, are looking for some good Polish conversation, or like to drink relatively cheaply…then head on over to Sportsman’s Club.
Just don’t give up right away if the door doesn’t open on the first few tries.
948 N. Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622