Contribute to the legacy, get a Hamm's.
In a city filled with corner dive bars, Archie’s Iowa Rockwell Tavern stands out in Chicago, a neighborhood bar that has been around long enough to be labeled a Humboldt Park / Ukrainian Village institution. With its front door at the axis of two quiet residential streets, the neighborhood dive bar vibe is about as pure as it gets under the simple green awning and towering Hamm’s sign that mark Archie’s Iowa Rockwell Tavern.
Chicago is no stranger to dispensing liquor licenses, so Archie’s Iowa Rockwell Tavern’s status as license number 177 in the city is noteworthy and underscores the longevity of the dive bar. Opened in 1943, the bar is so-named thanks to its founder, Archie Boroca who passed away in November 2013. Ownership passed to Deborah Pub and now to her daughter Katrina, long-time bar manager to the space. Archie’s legacy lives on through the enduring marlin mounted above the bar, hung there by Boroca and largely left alone since.
With an ownership lineage that includes the founder and subsequent family operation comes protection for an interior that has seen an update or two but largely remains true to its deep, beer-soaked, polka-loving roots. Chicago-born polka legend L’il Wally is said to have played at Archie’s during the 1950s, a fact that comes as no surprise given the resemblance of Archie’s interior space to a great aunt’s living room (in the best possible way).
Outside, Archie’s gets away with dive bar sacrilege in the presence of actual windows, though they’re bordered by opaque glass blocks. Beer signs sit in each window, providing an uncustomary glimpse of the outside world at a neighborhood dive bar. The brick façade matches the city blocks that surround the pub, stonework closer to the street giving way to the bar’s main door just under a wall-mounted air conditioning unit. In a twist to Archie’s amenities, dogs are allowed to walk through that same corner door, the presence of a dig or two a common sight within.
The vibe inside is neighborhood common room, a unified, single space that includes a long bar along one wall, a pool table in the middle of the space and some mismatched seating throughout. And these aren’t typical bar chairs and tables but rather the kinds of dining sets you would see in a grandparent’s kitchen nook, all of it adding to the community feeling inside of Archie’s. Though some of the clutter has been rearranged inside, the classics remain, including the aforementioned marlin above the bar and a handful of framed photos depicting Archie himself and some of the coverage of the bar over the years.
Archie’s Iowa Rockwell Tavern’s devotion to Hamm’s is noteworthy given Chicago’s deep dive bar love affair with Old Style that can be seen emblazoned across at least half the dive bar signs in the city. The bar has over the years earned the title as best selling Hamm’s location in Chicago, a distinction no doubt supported by a weekday happy hour that features $2 Hamms cans. Hamm’s memorabilia can be found in spots within Archie’s, including a row of commemorative plats mixed in with a Meister Brau serving tray (another favorite of Archie’s). An amazing, vintage Hamm’s clock attached to what looks to be another wall-mounted air conditioning unit may be the star of the interior decorations in the non-marlin division.
The bar counter and bar itself both look well worn though updated in spots, the dark wood of the bar matching the color of wide wooden panels that run halfway up the walls throughout the space. Taken together, all of the warm brown decorations create an additional sense of warmth to what is already a very inviting atmosphere thanks to the rest of the elements inside. That feeling is augmented by the bar’s clear devotion to the local community, hosting events such as clothing donations and community panels focused on helping and serving those in the area.
To stand out as a neighborhood corner bar in a city as robust in dive bar options as Chicago is no small feat and Archie’s Iowa Rockwell Tavern manages to do just that. The heritage that comes with landing liquor license 177 can be seen throughout the space in maybe not the most cluttered dive bar collection of memorabilia, but one with amazing pieces, many of them devoted to Hamm’s. The community support provided by Archie’s is mirrored by the vibe to be found within, a perfect corner dive bar for the Humboldt Park community.