At first glance Zakopane projects an interesting image with its glass block front and worn hanging sign depicting white capped mountains across from a green valley. The bar is named after a small town in Poland, surrounded by those white capped mountains. The tavern’s former name, Maria’s Lounge Limited, is for some unknown reason still displayed on the lower part of the sign.
The interior isn’t quite as interesting with a worn tile floor covering the front half, and a hardwood floor in the rear. The bar itself is positioned in the front section and has a faux marble Formica countertop and side along with ripped bar stools running its length. Behind the bar there are mirrors over Formica shelves and drawers. On each end there is a tube TV. Several signs proudly proclaim “We now have ESPN. Enjoy all your games here!” In the age of high-definition television, this may not be your first choice to watch the Blackhawks in the playoffs.
A dropped tile ceiling and paneled walls display the usual array of mainly domestic beer mirrors, signs, and neon; although there is a neon sign for Poland’s own Zywiec Beer. Long brown upholstered benches line both sides of the darkened back half. This area is mainly lit by the light over the pool table (games are $1). All the way in the back there is a small stage, usually utilized by small parties who bring in their own bands. Small café style tables and chairs sit in the darkness for those who want a little alone time.
The juke box has a decent mix of talent including Tom Jones, Led Zeppelin, GNR, James Brown, Johnny Cash, and of course a nice selection of Polish artists.
The clientele are locals, but bartender Monika, a transplant from Poland who has worked at Zakopane for five years, says “everybody” comes in and the best time to visit is late night Thursdays or Fridays. On this particular Thursday the place picked up around 9PM with mix of young and seasoned patrons. One con man walked in proclaiming that his Bentley broke down near the expressway. Despite some of the regulars mentioning that this man’s car breaks down on a regular basis, one drunken customer gave Bentley man $5.00. Like any good dive bar, there’s sure to be a variety of characters.
Specials vary. On this night Amber Bock was $2.50. Domestic bottles are $3.00, while imports (like Zywiec Beer) will run you a buck more. Hard drinks range from $4.00 to $4.50. Monika likes to mix a shot comprised of Poland’s yellow-tinted Zubrowka Bison Brand Vodka and apple juice. After downing several of this shots, a regular patron, formerly of Poland, related that the secret ingredient that gives Zubrowka its zing is actual bison urine distilled from the grass of the North Podlasie Lowland forest Bialowieza, the last primeval forest in Europe. There’s even a long blade of grass in each bottle. Urine or not…it’s not bad.
No food is served. Just chips for 75 cents.
Zakopane is cash only. There is an ATM on the premises, and a relic of the past…a pay phone.
Overall Zakopane is a decent bar to stop in for a few drinks. If you do visit, make it a point to try the Zubrowka vodka and apple juice. Did I mention it has bison urine in it?
1734 W. Division Street @ North Hermitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622