Grab a scratcher, an Old Style and a handle to go.
In general terms, convenience stores, liquor stores and dive bars are all cousins circling around the same core set of life’s needs. Ola’s Liquors in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood embodies all three, all of the lottery dispensing glory of a convenient store, the extensive to-go selection of a liquor store and a humble dive bar all in the same slender footprint. Tying everything together is namesake Ola, the Polish owner of the space that caters to all comers and all shifts with the early morning hours to prove it.
If one had to pick a dive bar promised land somewhere in Chicago, Ukrainian Village would be a worthy selection, home to a number of amazing drinking options that range from classic, cavernous taverns like Inner Town Pub to veritable Chicago institutions like Rainbo Club. But Ola’s Liquors provides a counterpoint to those dedicated dive bar experiences, its jack-of-all-trades approach and 7 AM opening time making for the kind of stop perfect for starting the day or ending the night.
Like so many of Chicago’s great dive bars, Ola’s Liquors occupies an otherwise nondescript brick building on a stretch of city block populated predominantly with residential housing. The building is a slender one, fresh brick on its façade mixing with the obviously aged and maybe original brick that extends around the rest of the structure. In true city tradition, an Old Style-themed sign with the name of the bar underneath extends above the front door, the windows below featuring a limited set of beer signage that includes, of course, another dose of Old Style branding.
There are hybrid liquor stores and dive bars in Chicago and elsewhere that function mostly as bars but have the ability to sell to-go drinks. Ola’s Liquors is the opposite, a layout clearly meant to display the extensive liquor selection available for purchase with a counter thrown in for those that want to stay for a bit. Where the typical dive bar layout includes an ornate, aged bar back, Ola’s Liquors features long straight shelving the length of the space with every imaginable variety of liquor, liqueur and sometimes mixer represented.
In front of the extensive shelving sits a long red bar counter with a handful of stools providing the dive bar half of the Ola’s Liquors experience. As the bar extends toward the front window, the focus here is less on liquor bottles and more on lottery tickets, a terminal available for picking numbers and a handful of scratchers stocked for sale. In the midst of the convenience and liquor store amenities, a cash register breaks up the flow of bottles and a few TVs line the uppermost shelf, a dive bar nestled among other businesses.
Complementing the liquor selection is the beer cooler that provides sets of to-go drinks for purchase, some if it mirroring the on-premise options stocked behind the bar. A small set of tables and stools provide additional seating along the back wall before interruption in the form of a vintage, free play jukebox that plays actual physical media (CDs, in this case). A second beer cooler in back extends the selection and sits opposite the bar’s ATM machine. Decorations throughout are fairly sparse, a handful of beer signs evenly distributed along the walls. A rotating Budweiser Clydesdale light can be found above the bar, another nod to the dive bar side of the Ola’s Liquors experience.
Experiences don’t come more straightforward than Ola’s Liquors, the utility of a slender footprint shining through as it straddles the line between selling lottery tickets, liquor handles and bottles of Old Style. The Chicago bar’s proximity to dive bar-stacked Ukrainian Village makes it all the more attractive, a perfect stop for really any of its three purposes.