An epic Chicago slashie in a city with a few gems still yet preserved.
Though hybrid liquor store and dive bar businesses exist throughout the United States, Chicago holds unique pride in the city’s so-called “slashies.” Grandfathered in with permits that allow both to-go and on-site alcohol sales, as businesses are sold or buildings purchased, those licenses can be lost, never to be replaced. Rite Liquors in the city’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood rivals other Chicago slashie institutions like Rossi’s Liquors and nearby Ola’s Liquors as one of the best remaining slashie destinations.
A bar, business or both has existed at the site of Rite Liquors since the 1920s, at some point along the way picking up the hybrid license still attached to the property today. Rite Liquors exists in its current incarnation thanks to the purchase of the building in 1983 by owner Mike Liacopoulos who was working in real estate at the time and saw the opportunity in the space. Back then, draft beers went for a quarter and the neighborhood was far different than today’s rapidly gentrifying Wicker Park / Ukrainian Village district.
Liacopoulos cites baseball bats and guns on premise as necessary protection during the late 1980s and beyond, well before the arrival of the upscale dining and drinking options that now saturate Division Street. Commercial real estate listings exist from 2019 that indicate that Liacopoulos was open to selling the location, though the COVID-19 pandemic likely curbed those plans during uncertainty around businesses like Rite Liquors and it appears that to this point no sale has occurred. That means family ownership remains intact, Liacopoulos supported by sons Ted and Steve.
The yellow and green awning outside is iconic even in a part of Chicago quickly evolving to trot out more and more eye-catching curb appeal as a means of attracting the throngs of visitors that crawl Division Street. Outside, the vibe is very much neighborhood bodega, the awning sitting above windows dotted with bar sign neon. A yellow sign juts out from the building above the awning, a large white arrow pointing down to the front door inscribed with Rite Liquors Cocktail Lounge, a title that only captures half of the story within.
The length of the space makes it feel a bit like a liquor store crossed with a bowling alley at first glance, wooden flooring extending the length of the shotgun-style single room divided by a wooden barrier down the middle the separates a portion of the retail footprint. Along the right wall, a seemingly endless wall of liquor options houses a variety of dive bar accents like Cubs memorabilia, framed beer posters, merchandise for sale and the occasional knick-knack. Black bar stools line the bar counter, creating the prime seating option for the dive bar portion of the Rite Liquors experience.
In back, the wooded partition between the two halves of the space opens up a bit, creating the de facto pool room at the rear of the building. A pair of gaming machines can be found back here in an alcove that feels about a mile away from the front door. Flags hang down throughout the space here, adding another visual element. Owner Liacopoulos by his own estimation has changed little here besides a few surfaces and a handful of coats of paint, letting the space exist largely as it did in 1983.
On the left side of the building, a quintessential liquor store can be found, this corridor of a retail environment given a bit of separation from the on-site drinking experience along the opposite wall. Lottery tickets and scratchers are available here, as is the cash only bar’s ATM machine, all of it creating the look of a small gas station convenience store nested within a dive bar, which is probably as fair a description as any for the confluence of forces found within Rite Liquors.
The draw of a so-called slashie is clear, rare is the place that a lottery ticket, an Old Style tallboy and six-pack to-go can all be found in the same spot. Businesses like Rite Liquors call back to earlier days when the local pub was an even more integral part of the community than it is today, requiring the kind of hybrid business model that Rite Liquors benefits from. No matter the history of the space of business type, this is a true Chicago experience, the long wall of liquor bottles, the no-frills atmosphere, the original elements throughout, the family ownership. All of it combines to create an authentic change of pace in a part of town flush with more expensive, more pretentious options only a few feet away.