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Forty Ounces to Freedom

Some Chicago bars that have embraced a trashy classic, which means more brew for you.
Sunday May 09, 2010.     By Karl Klockars
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Mickey's Malt Liquor

For years, the 40-ounce (or just 40) has been a destination drink for people who A) are cheap, B) are broke, C) need to be drunk now, or some combination of the above. The 40 has rarely found a place in actual drinking establishments, however. Is it because it isn't a profit maker? Is it because it's usually some pretty terrible swill? Is it because when emptied, the 40 is a formidable weapon, being wielded by a likely intoxicated warrior? These are all valid reasons, but the tides are finally starting to turn.

We've been seeing 40s popping up in more and more bars and restaurants around Chicago. Perhaps it's because owners have increased their liability insurance to cover the eventual outbreak of booze-induced skull lacerations or they've realized how well malt liquor pairs with fish. Maybe they now understand that they're just fun to drink (see popular drinking game Edward Fortyhands). In any case, here are a few places we've found where you can get the full forty without being forced to drink by the train tracks or while squatting in an alley.

Elm Street Liquors
The owners of Elm Street claim to have "evolved the traditional dive bar concept into the first luxury tavern in Chicago," whatever that means. After changing ownership in 2008, they have at least figured out that not everyone near Rush and Division wants standard macrobrew 12-ounce offerings, or slapped-together Cosmos or ___tinis. In addition to cocktails and beer mixtures like the Pretty Young Thing (PBR and Pink Lemonade) or the Brown Sugar (Negra Modelo mixed with tequila and a cube of brown sugar), they kindly have on hand a full 40 ounces of Mickey's finest malt liquor for the low, low price of just $10.

If you're turned off by the huge upcharge on what normally sells in convenience stores and gas stations for just a few bucks, consider that wine gets a similar price increase in restaurants, while beer is often worse. Besides, think of how much time (and tips) you'll save by purchasing the equivalent of three beers at once.

If you think that the lure of the 40 is only limited to mainstream dancehalls and unsophisticated destinations, think again. Boystown's Scarlet also understands the appeal of massive amounts of malt liquor, offering one the best bulk beer deals in the city during its Original Frat Boy Party: a full 40-ounce of King Cobra for just $5. (Sure there are 40s of Miller Lite available too, but when you can have steak, who needs hamburger?) No word on whether high-fiving, chest-bumping or beer pong goes along with it, but you'll probably be too busy ogling polo-shirt clad guys rocking Dockers to worry about it.

The Fifty/50
This flashy Wicker Park bar has built a following for its artery-clogging comfort food, including multiple versions of mac 'n' cheese, buffalo wings with house-made hot sauce and a late-night menu featuring cheddar waffle fries (add bacon for a buck!), pulled pork or steak nachos and stuffed 'shrooms. But the beer list is where things really get interesting, thanks to the rotating 40-ounce of the Week. Like the now-closed Lakeview Broadcasting Company, which would regularly change the type of 40 on hand for variety's sake, the Fifty/50 orders a certain number of cases of 40s per week, and when a brand is gone, it's gone 'til next time. So it is entirely possible that if the 40-ounce demand is high (and when isn't it?), there could be more than one 40 style per seven-day period. For just $8 you can try your hand Colt 45, Big Bear, Crazy Stallion, Old English or whatever other brand they decide to assault your liver with, which makes the Fifty/50 the destination for true malt liquor variety - outside of the gas stations and truck stops of America, of course.

Glenn's Diner
Wait, an actual restaurant that serves a 40 alongside its otherwise serious fare? If owner Glenn Fahlstrom - who claims to serve "the best food in the world - approves, we're not going to argue. You can match up an $8.25 bottle of Miller Lite with any of the fish specials of the day on the chalkboard, or if you're really feeling ready to call your sponsor, pour it over a bowl of any of the dozen or so cereals Glenn features during breakfast and brunch. (You might have to ask nicely to get them to serve it to you that early.) But if you're going to go big, you might as well put those 40 ounces of booze up against as many King Crab legs as you can possibly handle. Glenn's gluttonous steal of a Tuesday night all-you-can-eat deal is just $34.95 per person and worth doing at least once in your life, definitely with a huge bottle of beer at your side.

Fat Willy's Rib Shack
Perhaps you aren't comfortable toting in an economy-size bottle of brew to Smoque or Honey 1 BBQ. Maybe you had to rush and couldn't stop at the Food & Liquor joint for the malt liquor swill of your preference but you've got an undeniable hankering for 'cue. (Or you absolutely, positively can't handle sitting through the film you're being dragged to at the AMC City North theater across the street.) No matter what the reason, Fat Willy's is here to help.

Argue as you will about whose barbecue is the best, the most authentic, the most flavorful, the most properly prepared, the most reliable - only Fat Willy's can put a 40 of Miller Lite, Budweiser or MGD in front of you for $8 along with your pulled pork or slab of baby backs. Appetizers like jalapeno corn fritters, hot links or rib tips and sides like collard greens or Southern baked spaghetti round out the 40-enhanced experience.


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