Like drinking in an old-school hardware store with a shot of Malort on the side.
In another life, Joe’s on Broadway could have been a butcher shop or a deli or something along those lines given the classic pairing of big windows, bright awning and convenient location. Instead, the Mona Lisa print in the window, modified so she’s holding a PBR of course, tips the bit that there is some drinking to be found instead at this all-green, all the time postage stamp of a dive bar in Chiacgo’s Lakeview neighborhood.
Whether the green trim and green awning directly reference New York Jets legend Joe Namath and his Broadway Joe nickname is unclear, but pun or not, the name is about as clear as a dive bar name can be. The Chicago dive bar sits on Broadway, naturally, and is owned by Joseph Marzec, of course, making for a bit of serendipity when it comes to dive bar naming conventions. In addition to Mona Lisa, icicle holiday lights can be seen through the bar’s two large exterior windows, adding a little bit of classic dive bar interior ambiance to Joe’s on Broadway’s curb appeal.
The small footprint to Joe’s on Broadway may be its greatest asset, forcing the bar to maximize every square inch of space made available. The bar itself creates the flow of the room, a winding L-shaped bar that curves around two distinct spaces, one in front and one in back, creating some interesting angles when it comes to interacting with others saddled up to the bar. In front, Mona Lisa makes another, much larger impression, similarly poised with PBR in hand just next to the bar’s liquor and merchandise stash. Overhead, all manner of miscellaneous sticks can be found, including broom, wooden pitchfork and hockey stick.
The bar back is lined with TVs as it curves through the space, often tuned to the Cubs when available given the dive bar’s proximity to Wrigley Field. But though the bar sits roughly in walking distance of the stadium, it sits outside of Wrigleyville proper, making it an excellent alternative to some of the crowd-crushing intensity that can come with grabbing a beer further toward the field before and after a game. Joe’s on Broadway seems to be spared some of that traffic, making for a much more relaxed pre- and post-game atmosphere.
A series of chairs sit in the front window, allowing for a bit of people watching along Broadway. In contrast, just around the bend in the bar, the back area is a bit more sheltered from the natural light let in by the windows up front, creating a slightly different atmosphere. Here, the very dark wood paneling that surrounds the space seems to absorb some of the ambient light, making for a more mellow experience. Small lamps jut out from the wall over low square tables that provide some additional seating opposite the bar.
The signature wall feature is likely the gigantic marlin mounted to the bar’s back wall (and its cousin affixed to the adjoining wall), but decorations are dense and take good advantage of the space. In addition to Cubs and Bulls memorabilia, the area behind the bar in particular features a few more unique elements ranging from street signs to sarcastic bar signs to the bar’s draft menu (PBR $3). Perhaps most interestingly, one full wall opposite the bar is dedicated to pictures of locals and regulars through the years, including a few black and white shots of the bar in prior years.
There is no place to hide at Joe’s on Broadway, an advantage for a dive bar as it compresses some of the noise and people and drinking into a small space that creates the kind of energy and atmosphere that comes with an excellent drinking location. There are other quirks, of course, with notoriously interesting bartenders behind the counter and full volume Jeopardy on weekdays that add to the experience. Taken together, the small stature of Joe’s on Broadway may its signature feature, a small footprint used well to create an inviting, Wrigleyville-adjacent vibe.