As you make your way down this page, I am losing friends. One by one, they are disowning me. Jonalready at his wit's end thanks to my incessant teasingwill give me the cold shoulder. Nikhil will no longer reminisce with me about adventures abroad. Vance will uninvite me to our Tuesday get-togethers. I am committing a crime against them. I am telling you about their Union.
For many of my friends, the Union is an integral part of the week. They go every Friday, more consistently than they go to class. Come rain, snow, or blustery winds, they wait for the five o'clock #173 bus headed for their Mecca.
You could set a clock by their trip. At six, they hand over $10 to a bouncer who compensates them with cups. They glide across the room, feeling many moons away from campus with its job searches and midterms. As the bartender pours the first drink, Friday night has officially begun.
The Union is the college bar that we never had. I love Jimmy's, but it has too much personality to be the typical college experience. Jazz on Sunday nights? That mix of grad students and locals that fill the front room? A generic college bar is all about greasy food and cheap drinks in the hands of girls who spent far too long getting ready and boys who could start a fight at any moment. The average college bar is about making your way through spilled beer to a bathroom line where girls go in pairs.
The Union is just this place. It is not distinct, and that's what's so great about it. Well, that, and the three hours of open bar for $10. Ah, how easy it is to win the hearts of cheap 21-year-olds.
Early in the night, the place is fairly calm. People trickle in, filling their cups from pitchers poured by roaming bartenders. At about eight, the place is a mess. You need a game plan to get a drink. You need to work out a strategy to get as close to and high above the bar as possible, all while blocking your opponents: those other barflies.
Another site of competition is the table for bar food. In addition to filling your cup, the guys at the Union will fill your stomach with as much bar food as you can eat. Or, more appropriately, as much as you can fight for. As servers set down trays of hot pizza and quesadillas, looming patrons swoop down and scoop up handfuls of the oozing cheesiness. My friend Lyle is one of the best competitors around and is, in my opinion, a contender for rookie of the year. He can smell that pepperoni a mile away, and before it actually lands on the table, he skillfully maneuvers to grab helpings for his companions and himself. The food is surprisingly fillingsurprising, because it doesn't really have to be to keep the crowds at bay.
Located in close vicinity to the DePaul campus, the place is packed with college students from the neighborhood, but as of late, we U of Cers are making a pretty good showing as well. Each week, more and more of us make the trip uptown. Although sometimes I just want an escape from the scene and people on campus, I like that there are familiar faces at the Union. It's like a bond we all share. We can all make it at the U of C, but we can also make it out of Hyde Park too.
Promptly at nine, the herds dissipate. The whiskey-and-cokes and cranberry-and-vodkas are over. At this point, you can wander down the street to Kingston Mines, hop in a cab to Weed Street (for line dancing at Joe's or a ride on the mechanical bull at Hogs and Honeys), or make your way back to Hyde Park where the night has not yet even begun.
Address: 2858 North Halsted Street
Via CTA: CTA bus #173 U OF C/Lakeview Express Northbound to Diversey and Halsted. Walk north on Halsted to 2858 North Halsted Street.
Via car: Lake Shore Drive North. Exit at Fullerton Avenue. Turn right on Halsted. The Union Tavern is on the left, just past the intersection with Diversey.