It may be open, it may not be, who knows, but try the handle to be sure.
Some of the best dive bars blend in seamlessly with their surroundings, woven into the fabrics of their home neighborhoods, anchors for the community. And then there are dive bar’s like Max’s Place, a dive bar that blends into its city block so well that it’s honestly difficult to figure out if it’s open, if it’s closed or if it caught on fire 30 years ago only to be left as-is. The long sign above the front door has all but worn away, the only suggestion that a drinking establishment even exists a Chicago-standard Old Style sign jutting out from the nondescript building.
Details on Max’s Place are difficult to come by, but the Uptown Chicago dive bar seems to trace its history back to 1991, opened by its namesake, Maxine, and kept within the family since. Complicating matters are the handful of commercial real estate listings that cite Max’s Place and its building as actively for sale. Whether a sale occurred is unclear, but where there was once a painted sign now sits plywood so faded that only the suggestion of paint can be detected, making Max’s Place very much a cross-your-fingers-and-hope kind of dive.
Reassuringly, a handwritten sign in the window on this reviewer’s first visit read “Yes, we’re open.” The front wall of the building is covered in a few different types of brick, the whole thing about as wide as a two car garage, maybe. A single window in the middle of the exterior wall lets in precious little light but when the weather allows, the door is left open to let a few extra rays trickle in. The bar is cash only, a large ATM Inside sign over the front door a clear giveaway. The neighborhood block that surrounds Max’s Place is relatively quiet by Chicago standards, a sushi bar next door and a few other businesses resulting in ample parking out front.
The space inside is pure dive bar. Not a kitschy explosion of beer signs or a Prohibition-era speakeasy, but an honest Chicago dive bar that consist of a bar, a few stools and not a whole lot else. Thanks to its Sheridan Park location, the bar is LGBTQ+ friendly, marked by the pride flag affixed to the back of the space. The amenities here are simple, an electronic dart board, a CD-based jukebox, a pay phone (I didn’t test it) and alcohol. Specials are posted around the single room dive, most related to deals on buckets of domestic beers.
Light wood paneling creeps halfway up the walls throughout Max’s Place, the floor below it either replaced or refinished. The long bar takes up the majority of the room, a large wooden shelf behind it that combines a traditional bar back with dining room hutch vibes. Inside, a complete mish mash of glassware can be seen, much of it branded Cubs, a collection that expands into coffee mugs in different sizes. Many Chicago dive bars are labeled as ‘shot and a beer’ dives but it’s hard to argue with that distinction for Max's Place, few liquor bottles readily apparent but a board with the bar's shot specials prominently displayed.
The bathroom is clean, but more interestingly displays a hand-painted mural that wraps around the bathroom’s walls depicting a mountain scene complete with soaring eagle. The rest of the decorations include a small set of aging beer signs, a few mirrors and a wall clock. A small patio opens up into the lot behind the building, a few metal chairs and tables offering overflow outdoor seating.
Max’s Place is very purely a Chicago dive bar in every sense of the term, not a classic corner pub or ancient cultural institution but rather a bar for locals in a part of town not flush with an overabundance of dive bar drinking options. The bar’s sparse amenities pair well with an exterior that features a faded sign, a single narrow window and some ambiguity over whether anything actually exists at its location. Rest assured that Max’s Place, at least for now, remains open and very much a no frills, locals-heavy Chicago dive drinking experience.