The California

1002 North California Avenue
Chicago, Illinois


Craft Cocktails Draught Beer Craft Beer Live Music Bottles and Cans

This bar conforms with the screenless charter


The qualification of this bar is suspect

There is something reassuring about a distinguished institution surviving generation after generation. The Clipper, as it’s affectionately called, opened at California and Augusta in 1937 and makes the auspicious claim of being "Chicago's only bar with grape soda in the gun". It even has a signature drink to compliment said grape soda - the purple martin, a coconut rum and grape soda concoction that is surprisingly delicious enough to ask for a second. A look at the website reveals some pretty awesome photos going back over the years and of course, what bar from the '30s would complete without the story of a good haunting, More importantly it also details any live music that might be coming up.

Serving a diverse neighborhood that keeps much of the college/post-college riff raff at bay, the apron of The Clipper will be likely be occupied by some locked up fixed-gears and a handful of facial haired, modern-day culture aficionados smoking hand rolled tobacco. Enter under the iconic neon sign to test the advertised air conditioning within and the space is revealed as typical of Chicago architecture; low tables to the left, a long sculpted bar dominating the right and an elevated stage in the northwest corner. Find your way to the back of the room, across from the stage and through another threshold to find the Tiki room.

This room is deliberately left free of speakers or electronics of any kind and unless some lonely soul is prodding the ivories of the antique standup piano, the room serves as a respite from the sea of irony in the adjacent room. Decor could be described as retro and is minimal, but is it still considered retro if it has simply stayed the same over the years? Selection behind the bar is superb. A cocktail menu offers a vast offering of interesting old timey drinks and the bar men are skilled in mixolgy, not flinching at unusual orders, except for Malort, they don't take kindly to that here.

Beer flows from three lonely taps, all in the Guinness family and though the refrigerator stocking bottles is vast, do yourself a favor and give the cocktail menu a try. The atmosphere is festive; the old world acoustics bounce a mix of conversation and the often acoustic stylings of whatever flavor might be gracing the stage around the room. The Clipper welcomes all but has little time for the overbearing or verbose so be patient, enjoy a Grasshopper or Rusty Nail and embrace this living piece of Chicago history, but only until last call, then gtfo.

Comments (1)

  • Erin Lindsay vouched for The California Clipper