A southside Chicago afternoon
Heileman probably can't brew enough Old Style to turn me into a Chicago White Sox fan.
But Jack Schaller made sure that, if I try, it'll only cost me three bucks a can.
Mr. Schaller--the man and his tavern at 37th and Halsted--are southside instructions. Jack is in his late 80's and sharp as the proverbial tack. I know, because I spent a decent chunk of Saturday afternoon on one of his bar stools before and after that day's game (the Pale Hose did in Cleveland 14-7, a real pitcher's duel).
My wife and I were celebrating out 29th wedding anniversary and split up that day to do what we do best: shopping (for her) and being a spectator (for me). I'd been to Sox games before but never spent time in the neighborhood. Schaller's is the place where almost every Sox fan, to a person, will tell you to go for real game-day experience.
It didn't disappoint.
Mr.Schaller was there, as were a bunch of fans who are Chicago through and through. They know each other, but welcome strays. They have strong opinions, and better than decent thirsts. They'll even buy an interloper from Milwaukee a fresh beer while he waits for his cab.
Mr. Schaller chatted me up before the game, then gave me credit for the win when I returned after the game. I learned about his time in World War II (he was in Philippines), his days at Leo High School (he was a boxer), the history of the bar, and the Daley family down the street. I asked how he likes the new mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, at which point Mr. Schaller shuffled behind the bar, producing a framed, handwritten note. Sorry I missed you, the mayor wrote to the absent owner after Hizzoner dipped in to The Pump for a quick visit, and I'll be back sometime soon so I can learn how to run Chicago.
He could do far worse.
Mr. Schaller and his bar drip Chicago. It seemed every customer was a regular and, after a few rounds, even the guy from Milwaukee felt at home. When the Sox post game show was over, a guy sitting at the corner asked Billy, the bartender, to turn on "the Pirates game." That's who the crosstown Cubs were playing that night.
It was tough to leave, but the shopping was done and there was the a wedding anniversary to celebrate. Billy called the cab, I bought the "Pirates" fan a farewell beer and headed out the door. On the way out, I shook Mr. Schaller's hand and slid my complimentary Robin Ventura bobblehead across the bar so Billy could add it to the modest collection on a small shelf. It's a small thing, but I felt I needed to leave something in tribute besides an empty beer can or two.
I didn't leave Schaller's a Sox fan, but I certainly appreciate one of their most storied traditions: no, not the "Na Na" song that so annoyed Brewers fans when the two teams shared spots in the American League.
It's Schaller's. Chicago, at working man's prices, with a side order of history.