Created December 28, 2003
501 N. Ogden Ave. (500N, 1300W)
"Eat • Drink • Ride"
While some Chicago bars self describe themselves as cool (think "Finn McCool's"), others just are—others, like the Twisted Spoke. "The Spoke," as locals refer to it, is much more than just "biker friendly" as it is often described in many of the standard, mind-numbing reviews. At the Spoke, you'll find some of the best burgers in town, one of the few rooftop patios around, excellent Bloody Marys, and the strangely alluring "Smut & Eggs." The Twisted Spoke comes to you out of the same madness from which sprang Twisted Spoke Lakeview, Pie Hole, and the dearly departed Bone Daddy, and, by itself, has become one of the best bars in Chicago. What is "biker friendly" anyway?
Twisted Spoke is located at the corner of Ogden and Grand Avenue in West Town where, up until recently, most bar owners have feared to tread. The only other bars inhabiting the area also known as River West are the Matchbox, Emmit's Pub and Richard's, so it can be a bit difficult to find a cab afterwards; the bartenders can call you one if you have trouble. Otherwise, it's pretty difficult to find parking in this part of town due to all the new condo construction (your best bet is on Ogden and don't park in the empty lot across the street or the tow trucks will get you). Bone Daddy, under the same ownership, used to be located just up the street on Ogden but shut during the summer of 2003.
Like its younger sibling in Wrigleyville, the Twisted Spoke sports a facade encrusted with rusted metal plating and a wall of narrow, plate-glass windows that open out in summer. This is a result of the Twisted Spoke's recent "remodeling." Considering that the previous version looked like the farmhouse in the original version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the new Twisted Spoke is far more inviting and much less scary. However, they did keep their skeletal Hells Angel mascot: a vintage motorcycle-riding, wheelie-poppin' skeleton, which can be seen revolving from a long black pole at the bar's helm. Four motorcycles can be found half buried within a "planter" lined with the same rusted metal as the bar itself, making what has to be the most unusual "garden" around.
More motorcycles, of the unplanted variety, can usually be found lined up in a neat little row just outside the bar. A motorcycle handlebar serves as the outer door's handle and mind your step as you walk in as there's a short, fairly steep cement ramp. Once inside, you'll find the hostess's stand just beyond several framed accolades, including Top 10 rankings for Best Hamburger, Best Fries, Best Barbeque, Best Late-Night Dining, Best Outdoor Dining, Best After Work Dining, Best Neighborhood Bar, Best Place to See and Be Seen, Best Singles Bar, and Best Cheap Eats by Citysearch: Chicago in 2001. A scuffed cement floor leads to both cancerous and non-cancerous sections of the dining room, with its curving black banquette along the east wall and low-slung, galvanized metal tables and black vinyl chairs across from it. Cardboard beer six-packs contain the condiments and a corrugated metal ceiling can be found above. The wall above the banquette features track-lit, black & white photographs that look like Glamour Shots of Baby Boomers on motorcycles. Various antique motorcycle parts, including helmets, piston blocks, crankshafts, rims, license plats, sprockets, and horns dot the walls and columns around the room.
Back around to the left of the hostess stand, you'll find a short hallway that leads to an exposed brick bar area in the eastern portion of the Twisted Spoke. This area features a pool table, a couple of cocktail tables, a motorcycle propped up on a brick landing, and a smallish wooden bar that runs against the southeastern wall. A very good selection of microbrews can be found behind the bar that includes Stella Artois, Anchor Porter and Sprecher Bavarian, served from over a dozen taps and even more can be had in bottles. Each month, one of these beers is featured by "Butch" for the recession-friendly price of only $2; they don't tell you what beer it is but rather, "We have 53 good beers, 1 bad. It's best not to ask questions. What is it? What it is is $2." Most other beers are $2.50 on Tuesdays. The Spoke also serves up an excellent selection of bourbon in the spirit of brethren bar, Delilah's—you know a bar takes its bourbon seriously when they have Jim Beam on tap like they do at the Twisted Spoke (Beam cocktails are $2 every day). The bathrooms, labeled "Chicks" and "Dicks" (each with a listing, including Nixon, Daley and "Daley (again)," can be found across from the bar, down a short curving hallway, and are described in this way:
"This masterpiece of a bathroom is far and away the most manly specimen I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Chrome, diamond plated steel deck plating lines the walls up to waist height, and the several rolls of toilet paper in the single irregularly shaped stall hang defiantly on a hefty 3/4" chain strung between two eye bolts and are locked in place with a big brass lock. This place screams manliness."
– excerpt from the review of Twisted Spoke on Larry Wingonton's www.WigMusings.com
You'll also find a topless illustration and handy condom machine in the men's john, with various models only $0.75 each.
In the summer months, the Twisted Spoke beer garden is open for business on the bar's roof. This area is accessible from a staircase to the left of the door, just past the pinball and Galaga machines, when you walk in. The rooftop features several picnic tables (most of which are not broken), patio umbrellas and flowers and biker friendly flowers. The beer garden is packed during the first warm days of the year, just like at Sheffield's, Justin's and Zella further north.
"AT THE SPOKE, EVERY ORDER IS MADE FROM SCRATCH. EACH ORDER RECEIVES THE PERSONAL LOVE AND ATTENTION YOUR MOM WOULD GIVE A MEAL BEING PREPARED IN HER KITCHEN. MAKING IT FRESH TAKES A LITTLE LONGER, BUT IT'S WORTH THE WAIT."
– excerpt from the Twisted Spoke website
If you're hungry, the Twisted Spoke does not disappoint. The Spoke is to burgers as what Piece is to Pizza with its main claim to fame being the "Fatboy" burger or "the finest burger available anywhere on the Northeast corner of Grand and Ogden." Each Fatboy consists of a ½-pound of "heaven-sent bovinity," seasoned with herbs and spices, and served up on a garlic toasted egg bun. All Fatboys come with your choice of raw onions, lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, cheddar, Swiss, bacon, and bar-b-que sauce all for no extra charge. Not bad for $7.75, although they will charge you an extra $5 if you attempt to commit the mortal sin of trying to share it. You can also get a "Pattie Package" that is a Fatboy served on grilled rye bread with Swiss and grilled onions or get a "Double Fatty" for $9.75.
To start yourself out with, the onion rings, buffalo wings, cheese curds, smoky rib tips, and "women pea" hummus are recommended. The main menu is highlighted by the following entrées: a full slab of baby back ribs ($15) that was popular on the Bone Daddy menu, beef brisket ($12.75), meatloaf ($9.75 all-you-can-eat), pot roast ($12.75), pork chops ($12), and Alberto's Jumbo Burrito ($6.50). The usual array of sandwiches is featured, each served with a huge pile of hand cut, seasoned French fries. Much ballyhoo has been made about the fries, but I'm more of a heavily fried, crinkle cut man myself at which Eat-a-Pita on Halsted so brilliantly excels. When you're done with your meal, finish off with an ice cream bar, provided by Mitchell's Ice Cream & Candies of Homewood. In recognition of its culinary capability, the Twisted Spoke was recently rated Four Forks (out of four) or "don't miss it" by Renee Enna of the Chicago Tribune.
Personally, I've found the jalapeño poppers good and the egg sandwich on Texas toast with bacon to be excellent. I have not yet had the pleasure of consuming a Fatboy, but did suffer through a "Bowl of Green" chili, which was more like pulled pork swimming in a salsa verde soup—to be avoided in my opnion. If you're up for chili, get the "Bowl of Red" (steak with tomato chilis) or "Bowl of Black" (ground chuck with black beans) instead. Each chili is served satisfyingly in a cast iron skillet. You can also try the "Chili Sampler" and get a cup of all three for $9. Waitresses serve patrons in both the dining room and rooftop patio, wearing tight black Twisted Spoke t-shirts and showing off their midriffs. These t-shirts, along with those for the male kind, are on sale at the server's stand. In addition to the Citysearch accolades, Twisted Spoke was awarded Best Burger by both The Official Chicago Bar Guide (2001) and Chicago Scene Magazine (2002).
The "Bodacious Biker Brunch" is served on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11am until 3pm. On this menu, you'll find French toast ($6.50), banana buckwheat pancakes ($6.50), corned beef hash ($7.50), steak & eggs ($10.50), freshly squeezed orange juice, and a variety of "Scrambles": Wisconsin (featuring bratwurst), Mexican (chorizo), Italian, and Chili (all for $7.50). The best bit of brunch at the Spoke has to be the "Road Rash Mary": a hot and spicy bloody Mary that is served with a meat garnish (salami), a splash of Guinness, onions, green olives, peppercini, parmesan, and a complimentary 4-oz. "beer back" (chaser). Each bloody, also called "a sandwich in a glass," will set you back $6.25 and is widely regarded to be worth it (they sell up to 500 per week). Get there early if you go for brunch as the lines can get pretty long.
Of course, the most notable "feature" at the Spoke is their daily offering of "Smut & Eggs." It all begins at midnight on Saturdays and runs until 2:30am. Upon the witching hour, the bartenders will loudly announce that its time for smut and the kitchen will serve whatever you want from the brunch menu while you take in a porn flick filmed sometime between yesterday and 1970. It should also be noted that the porn featured at the Twisted Spoke is not of the "soft core" variety that your girlfriend might find erotic... To get a good eyeful, just head into the main bar area and check it out on one of the TVs above the pool table. Next time your thinking about some late night grub at Clarke's or Melrose, head to the Twisted Spoke instead.
"Twisted Spoke has a lot in common with those biker bars you see in beer commercials: Sure, it's dark inside and a little intimidating, but soon enough you realize that no beer company is going to do business in a place where yuppies get scared."
– excerpt from Renee Enna's review in the Chicago Tribune
Although many claim that the Spoke was originally a tough biker bar that has mellowed with age, the bar was originally intended to be a "family biker bar" when brothers Cliff and Mitch Einhorn opened it in 1995. This explains the older, overweight Baby Boomers that frequent the place, horrifying those around them by wearing tight jeans and gym shoes. Many of these patrons are going through their cliché mid-life crises as evidenced by their shiny new Harley Davidsons prominently displayed out front. You'll also find children in the bar during the day. If you're a true biker type, you may be a bit disappointed with these softer types so make sure you hang out in the bar area instead or you'll be sure to be driven crazy by such requests as, "Can I get a glass of water with no ice and a lemon?" or "There's too much sun shining on us, can we have another table?" Even with the Boomers, the bar also attracts the trendier, oft-tattooed kind from the surrounding neighborhoods and those farther afield that know a good bar when they see one. In addition, the Twisted Spoke is also a popular meeting ground for Chicago's Critical Mass and for teams playing in Twisted Spoke's own softball league. Overall, the staff actually has more attitude than the clientele. This should not be confused with poor service, although Twisted Spoke does not earn high marks in this category; instead, the staff just isn't going to put up with much of the endless whining so common of Chicago bar and restaurant patrons these days. I wonder what the Boomers think of the eclectic music in the background that ranges from country to punk to R&B...
"Beef, alcohol, sex and sports—what more is there?"
– The Official Chicago Bar Guide (2001)
Simply put, the Twisted Spoke is a Chicago classic even if you're not into smut or motorcycles. The food is as good as you're going to get in a bar and the Road Rash Marys can't be beat. If you are into hogs, you'll be happy to know that the Spoke is reminiscent of the long-forgotten Ace, which used to contain an impressive array of biker paraphernalia (a Starbuck's now stands in its place in Roscoe Village) – just don't expect an edgy biker atmosphere except for when Smut & Eggs gets started. All of this makes the Spoke a great place to go any day of the week, and especially after an event at the nearby United Center; the bar was even picked Favorite Place to Wait Out a Blizzard in the Chicago Tribune's 2001 dining poll. For more information, check out the Twisted Spoke website. Yer bugger!
~ Have a good story relating to this bar? E-mail it to me. ~
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– written by Sean Parnell
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