My Corner of the World: The Old Town Ale House

Midwest Pub Feature: Part Four

Apologies, City of Broad Shoulder’s readers, but my coming of age tale begins roughly around the time I left Illinois. My knowledge of Chicago’s plentiful alehouses and bier gardens has some major holes in it, but I still want to pay tribute to the place I call home. No matter how far away I meander, no matter how many places I visit, Chicago remains as a constant reminder of things that don’t always seems so clear. David Foster Wallace once wrote, “our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.”

Home feels so impossible once you leave it, walled off by new experiences and mutated by time and our need to be nostalgic. Time dilates these feelings, hopefully making us stronger and wiser with age. William Faulkner spars with the homesick ratio (years away from home/years lived at home) and innocence rather tragically in The Sound and the Fury, and Dave Eggers runs from home with uncanny velocity in A Hearbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. When I first set foot into the Old Town Ale House I didn’t feel at home, per say, but I felt the pull of home. Inside, I felt that everyone should belong somewhere. Wherever that place is, it is the only place to be.

Time. Time. Time. Time.

The Old Town Ale House is small. I can have a somewhat-comfortable conversation with someone on the other end of the bar and I can definitely eavesdrop from the corners. But that’s the thing, you don’t need to eavesdrop here. The Old Town Ale House is not as divided as its politics may suggest, attracting townies and the Second City crowd with regularity. Whimsically political portraits of our esteemed leaders—and some candid wannabes—adorn the walls, but only the newcomers acknowledge them. They are a part of the system, as corrupt and laughable as we all could be if we found ourselves in positions of power.

But the Ale House and its patrons aren’t concerned with power, everyone’s too concerned looking for a consistent and relatable narrative. No matter how much we may disagree with much of what goes on in our cities, states and countries, we still have to put up with it. No one in the Ale House would agree that hell is other people, but that spending time in hell with other people wouldn’t be such an awful eternity. No matter what goes on around our homes, we still return to them. We still search them out in crisis or fits of disconnect. And we often find home like we find the Old Town Ale House: undisturbed and open.

Don’t come looking for an exhaustive beer list, come here looking for an Old Style and a place to sit for a while. Amongst redevelopment (re: gentrification) and a quickly changing neighborhood, the Old Town Ale House reminds us to think critically about where we want to be. To know that we may have left our homes at some point, but we can still feel very much at home.

Find it: The corner of North and Wieland, across the street from the Second City and the much beloved but rarely frequented Loews sort-of-indie-but-not-quite Cineplex. Also, they probably have the best web page on the entire internet.

I don’t often get to get some beers in Chicago, but when I do, it’s generally at the Old Town Ale House. Let us know more about your corner of the world on Twitter (@midwestbeer), Facebook or send an email to


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