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Football Fri Sep 06 2013

Where to Watch the Fighting Illini this Season

illini.jpgI love the Illini and I bleed orange and blue. I'm a 3rd generation U of I graduate, and this has left me with the unfortunate fate of cheering on a less than stellar football team, but nonetheless, I stay with 'em. There are a multitude of Illinois grads in this city, but for some reason, it feels as there are more Michigan and Florida bars than Illini ones (cough, cough..bandwagon...cough). If you share my fate of being an Illini fan, since our team won't be headed to the Rose Bowl or probably even a winning season, you'll at least need to know the bar options where you can watch in frustration or misery with cheap drinks (but have hope!). Here's my list of Illini bar options:

Joe's on Weed, 940 W. Weed St., joesbar.com

Joe's is where the Chicago Illini Club used to host their game watches. After doing some research, it seems as though the official game watches may be abandoned (also, way to be supportive, Chicago Illini Club). I give Joe's an official "eh" in my ratings. The service is so-so, the food isn't that great, but the beer is cheap. They feature $8 Coors Light pitchers on Saturdays, which isn't the worst. There are tons of huge screens, so the view of watching the game is pretty snazzy. You do have to share your space with the rest of the NCAA fans, and hope that the Illini are featured on the sound. Upon further investigation, it seems as though Joe's has turned into an Indiana bar this year, a team that may be even more pathetic than we are.

High Noon Saloon, 1560 N. Milwaukee Ave, highnoonchicago.com

Finally, an "official" Illini bar, with like, an Illini flag outside and we don't have to share. This is what I've been waiting for since moving to Chicago over 6 years ago. High Noon Saloon is a new bar in Wicker Park, a 'hood without a multitude of sports bars, in the space where People Lounge used to be. My Illini BFF and I checked it out this past Saturday to see if it lived up to it's potential. For the most part it did. The place featured Illini Brunch, a $25 all you can drink mimosas, bloodies, and Bud Light from 11-2pm that includes breakfast. Nice. When you're an Illini fan, drinking away your sorrows is key, and the all you can drink special does it right. The food was decent, the service was good, place not too packed. The only way it would've been better is if we could've beaten SIU by more than 8 points.

Rebel, 3462 N. Clark St., rebelchicago.com

I am an ex-Lakeview resident, and when I lived over in the 'hood, Rebel was my go to Illini bar. The game watches include good specials -- $5 build your own burger and $6 stadium beers. You have to go to ya know, Wrigleyville, which is somewhere I usually avoid these days, but you can reserve a table for your people by giving them a call. Rebel has so much potential, but half the times I've walked in there to watch Illini football or basketball, I've had to actually inquire if they'll change the channel and put on the Illinois game or ask them to put the sound on. There have been times where the bartenders didn't even know what the specials I had already seen advertised and barely knew how to pronounce "Illini." Sigh. Not a bad option if you're up in Lakeview and want to be close to see your orange and blue.

Schoolyard, 3258 N. Southport Ave., schoolyardtavern.com

Schoolyard is up there on my Illini bar recommendations. It's pretty low key, good crowd and good service. They have decent specials which include $5 stadium cups, $5 O&Os (because college, amirite?), and $20 orange and blue fishbowls. Get there early because it does get a bit crowded and sometimes there are no seats. It's also a bit problematic because they don't open until 11am on Saturdays, and no lie, I have been in line to get in and have the doors opened for us. If you're an Illini game watch bar, I would recommend opening at least by 10:30, since ya know, we always get the crappy 11am TV spot. The set up is also a bit odd and depending on where you're sitting, you may have to crane your neck to see a TV in the back room.

Barn & Co., 950 W. Wrightwood Ave., barnandcompany.com

Barn & Co. is a relatively new spot in Lincoln Park, replacing the old Central (RIP The Central). Their food, specializing in barbecue, is fantastic and they have a great selection of beer. Viewing the game is lovely as they have big screens and booths with individual TVs. There is no information on their gameday specials anywhere, but in the past they've offered decent options for Illini basketball, so I'm hoping they do the same for football.

These other two aren't Illini bars per se, but they don't have a specific team and generally support the BIG Ten games on.

The Fifty/50, 2047 W. Division St., thefifty50.com

The Fifty/50 has been my preferred spot for college football for the last few seasons. The bartenders are my favorite, and they always put on the Illini game for me and were ready with my Green Line. Fifty/50 features a fabulous brunch menu that includes fantastic options for if you are at a bar at 11am and you were out til 2am on Friday night (their skillet options and the hoe-mosa for example). They have a $16 domestic and $20 import bucket specials, as well as a $20 mimosa bucket special. The Fifty/50 is definitely not the cheapest place to get your Illini on, but if you're looking for less of a dive and more of a high end sports bar, this is it.

North End, 3733 N. Halsted St., northendchicago.com

This Boystown sports bar is always a blast, with cheap, big, frosty mugs of beer, pool tables, darts, and big screens for the game. It's never crowded and can be a perfect place if you want to simply watch your team and drink a beer. It is the quintessential neighborhood, low key bar during football game days. They don't serve food, but as I recall, you can bring food in.

And don't forget the Illini will be here in Chicago next weekend at Soldier Field for their game vs. Washington. Tickets are pretty cheap, and you get to watch a game without sub zero temperatures in Soldier Field.

Oskee-Wow-Wow! I-L-L!

 
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