One City Tap and Slide Bar prove there’s still a future for the south-side neighborhood bar | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

One City Tap and Slide Bar prove there’s still a future for the south-side neighborhood bar 

“The liquor license is hard to get. Especially on the south side. Especially for Latinos.”

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click to enlarge One City Tap

One City Tap

courtesy One City Tap

I t's easy to miss McKinley Park's newest—and only—neighborhood bar among the billboards and bustling traffic at the intersection of Archer and Ashland. All the better that One City Tap has two sets of doors—one on Ashland, one on Archer—that open up into its surprisingly spacious interior. Double the door, double the likelihood that a passerby will end up sitting at the linoleum-topped bar, sipping on a spicy cucumber margarita.

The father-and-son duo behind One City Tap, Marco Lopez and Marco "J.R." Lopez, opened up the bar's double doors just over a year ago after living in the neighborhood for more than a decade. The site is easily accessible by the Orange Line, the 62 and 9 buses, and the Stevenson Expressway, and the Lopezes thought it was the perfect location. With housing prices in Bridgeport and Pilsen rising, more people are starting to think about moving to McKinley Park, says J.R. "The Orange Line, it's the new big thing." One City Tap is well poised to pick up the traffic: aside from a members-only bar farther west down 35th Street and the new Marz Taproom about a mile to the southeast, it's the only bar in the neighborhood.

The "neighborhood bar" has come to feel like an endangered species on the south and west sides. Mayor Daley's crusades against package goods shops in the 90s left behind a fraction of the neighborhood taverns that once existed, and widespread moratoria on liquor licenses make it difficult to open a new watering hole without connections or clout. "The liquor license is hard to get," says Marco. "Especially on the south side. Especially for Latinos." The older neighborhood bars that do exist in the area are not always welcoming spaces and, as of late, the brewpub seems to be getting more popular. But One City Tap and the Slide Bar, Tri-Taylor's newest and only bar, are proving that the neighborhood bar is still alive and kicking.

Both have settled into spaces that have been neighborhood bars for decades, which has helped the owners avoid the cost of building a spot from scratch; the Slide Bar also inherited a grandfathered-in liquor license. But both One City Tap and the Slide Bar are adding their own twists. For the Lopezes, that means opening up their doors to everyone. One City replaced Tommy O's, an Irish bar that wasn't known for being particularly inviting, says Marco, and few of the old regulars have come in since the ownership changed. While most of the Lopezes' customers are McKinley Park residents or from Pilsen or Bridgeport, some come from the north side, especially for the bar's popular Otro Ritmo Punk Night, hosted monthly by local punk enthusiasts Jorge Vargas and Alice McGorty. The Lopezes welcome those who make the voyage down. "It's only Chicago, one city. For us, [there's] no south, no north—that's why we put the name One City Tap," Marco says.

A spokesman for 12th Ward alderman George Cardenas wrote in an e-mail that One City has already become a hub for neighborhood gatherings: "A keen piece of the revitalization of McKinley Park is being built upon communication. One City Tap offers the community a social space where our future plans will be drafted."

Now that business has picked up, the bar is starting to make more donations to the community—late last year, the Lopezes contributed to bike and holiday toy drives, and this May they helped fund—raise for a CPS scholarship for undocumented students. And they're already planning their next steps: a music venue around the corner, and then maybe a sandwich shop or casual cafe. In the meantime, they're hopeful that the neighborhood, which is still largely residential, sees an increase in locally owned business. "If we're building more business, people from everywhere come in," Marco says. This is why he supports a potential rival, a new brewpub that may open several blocks south on Ashland. "More business, more taxes, more benefits for the neighborhood."

click to enlarge Slide Bar - COURTESY SLIDE BAR
  • Slide Bar
  • courtesy Slide Bar

A few miles north, in Tri-Taylor, the Slide Bar is building off the legacy of Rick's Bar, the beloved neighborhood joint that preceded it. If the name sounds familiar, that may be because you've seen Nida Rodriguez slinging burgers from the Slide Ride, a light-pink food truck that's been making the rounds at nearby festivals for the last seven years. Now Rodriguez has put down roots in Tri-Taylor, serving up burgers and other thoughtfully prepared bar food from a spick-and-span, well-stocked bar. Tri-Taylor has grown into the go-to neighborhood for food trucks interested in settling down-both the La Adelita Truck and the Aloha Wagon have opened up restaurants there in the last several years. Rodriguez heard about the opportunity to open a bar, in fact, from the owner of La Adelita, who knew that Rick Mead, the owner of the eponymous bar on the corner of Western and Taylor, was retiring after 30 years in business.

The process of opening took a year of legal wrangling, Rodriguez says, because of the liquor license moratorium in place in the neighborhood. But with the support of 28th Ward alderman Jason Ervin, Rodriguez was able to acquire a liquor license by buying out Mead's corporation, which already had one. After taking over, she made some changes to the bar's interior, installing new tables and chairs, raising the ceiling, and putting new art on the walls. Otherwise, she's kept the fundamentals in place, focusing on perfecting the menu and leaning on Mead's old customers for advice. The result, she says, is a bar strong on bourbon and craft beer, with a popular weekly trivia night and a recently introduced jazz night.

"Western Avenue has been an issue for [Tri-Taylor]-there's not enough business there," says Rebecca Hendricks, secretary of the Tri-Taylor Neighborhood Association. Most businesses are located on Taylor Street; Slide Bar is one of a small number on the north-south street. "Slide Bar helps create desirable traffic up Western," says Hendricks, "and it's coming into its own as a neighborhood gathering space."

"We're a place where people in the neighborhood wanna come for a birthday party, . . . [where] the Neighborhood Association will have their meetings," Rodriguez says. "A lot of people know each other and are very welcoming to newbies." It's a bar designed around the neighborhood it's in, but the bartenders are just as friendly to newcomers. Rodriguez is one herself: shortly after she took over the bar, she moved to the neighborhood.

After months of building out and adjusting, Rodriguez feels like the bar is finally where she and her team want it. But it's still a little too soon to celebrate. "We never had our grand opening yet, so [on our first anniversary] we want to do a big, grand reopening party."   v

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