Some haunts feel more like second homes, as comfortable and familiar as that tattered Ramones tee it took three years to break in. Gold Star Bar fits the bill, situated on a strip of Division where blue-collar bars and liquor stores meld with breezy bistros and boutiques. Open since the Prohibition and an ill-reputed house in the swinging sixties, it now caters to area musicians, writers, artists, punks, bike messengers and working-class stiffs who always have an interesting story to tell.
The Star's simple red and white walls and neon signs aren't much to look at; it's mercifully short on gimmicks, pomp or pretensions. But true believers gather to gab at the long bar, in lawn chairs next to '50s era Formica tables or on the ratty couch where pool sharks relax and wait their turn to shoot some stick. Complimentary popcorn keeps the kids thirsty while the finest jukebox in Wicker Park spins classics by The Clash, Johnny Cash, John Coltrane, Slayer and Tom Waits, with some Iron Maiden mixed in for the hair farmer in us all.
Though the bar boasts nothing exotic in the way of brews and only three flavors on tap (Double Diamond, Stella Artois and Guinness), everything comes with a nice price: $2 Old Styles and Buds, domestics and imports from $2.50-$4 and wells for only $3.50. Friendly bartenders usually have time for a quick snatch of conversation, and they know their regulars well. If you've done your time, you might just find them waving your wallet aside and giving up that last Pabst on the house.
Centerstage Reviewer: Michael Foreman