Long history, tiny pool room, caked with vintage beer signage.
For a dive bar that could double as a boutique museum dedicated to drinking, details are notoriously sketchy around Chipp Inn, a Chicago dive bar often cited as one of the city’s oldest without many details around how, when and why it was opened in the first place. Occupying a quiet corner in Chicago’s Noble Square neighborhood, Chipp Inn is a picture of an unassuming corner dive, in this case one that has reportedly served its community for over 100 years.
Again, details are hard to come by, but a variety of sources seem to converge on an opening year of 1897 and a heritage that includes a spell as speakeasy during Prohibition. That Chipp Inn, or something else by that name in roughly the same location, predated Prohibition is confirmed by a series of artifacts to be found within the bar’s footprint that show off things like purchase receipts for beers only available before Prohibition’s enactment. Under management of the Kruzel family for a period of many decades, some of the bar’s artifacts start to firm up around the 1920s, though the business was relocated from a nearby building somewhere along the way.
Taken in from the street, Chipp Inn is everything a Chicago corner dive bar should be, a building that clearly has some age to it that resembles a home repurposed into a bar many years ago. Today, Chipp Inn cuts a clean look, pale siding mixing with bright red brick with a series of windows wrapping around the corner it sits on. In the windows a series of neon signs fill the space, including the bar’s signature Old Brew sign referencing a long-gone flagship beer under the Schlitz umbrella. All of the great dive bar beer hits are represented here, including Old Style, Blatz and Hamm’s, a frequent subject of memorabilia within Chipp Inn as well.
From the series of black and white photos found throughout the space, it is evident that Chipp Inn has changed little over the years, the signature bar up front enduring many decades of operation. Dual mirrors bookend a classic cash register in the center of the area behind the bar where a variety of aging dive bar beer relics can be found. Above the bar, vintage serving trays can be found depicting all manner of dive bar beer favorite. In the center of the bar, a dusty Old Style cabinet of some variety (this reviewer couldn’t figure out its purpose) presides over the proceedings.
The walls throughout Chipp Inn double as home to beer signs and pieces of Chipp Inn-specific memorabilia that ranges from old purchase receipts to classic photos to branded merchandise created over the years in partnership with some of the beer brands popular in the space over the years. The bar’s second room includes a series of framed photo montages depicting Chipp Inn through the years, including newspaper clippings in places referring to the Chicago dive bar. This back room doubles as the bar’s pool room, the small stature of the space supporting only a reduced size table.
In a city that has seen beer prices climb even at some of Chicago’s dive bars, Chipp Inn seems to be holding the line, a series of specials above the bar describing abundantly affordable options throughout the week ($2 Old Style anyone?). A decent-sized beer cooler houses a good selection of options beyond the typical dive bar fare, all of it available on a cash only basis. The joy here is in the exploration of the space itself, each square inch covered with something interesting, including a number of lamps and wall decorations this reviewer had never seen before.
Beyond the physical attributes of Chipp Inn, the neighborhood location creates a community vibe inside, one that was punctuated on a recent visit where my wife and I were offered pizza by a stranger simply because we happened to be hanging out in the same bar that day. Everything about the interactions inside spoke to the welcoming nature of the clientele drawn to a place like Chipp Inn, obviously a strength given the longevity and durability of the operation, fuzzy details or not.
Sometimes the moniker of ‘oldest bar in the city’ can come with an air of pretention or an evolution of the space that steers it away from its authentic roots. None of that rings true for Chipp Inn, one of Chicago’s oldest dive bars by any metric that has maintained the same look and feel for what may well be over 100 years. When that kind of longevity is matched by a friendly vibe and an endless array of interesting wall decorations, a dive bar like Chipp Inn becomes irresistible even in a city flush with amazing dive bar options.