And grab a six pack to go.
Discussions of dive bars often delve into the hipster quotient, meaning an assessment of whether the clientele at a given bar is made up more of regulars or younger, hipster drinkers. Sovereign Liquors in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood serves both ends of the spectrum, a little day drinking for neighborhood locals, some evening beers for nearby Loyola students and some mixture between the two groups. That all of it takes place in a converted deli and butcher shop only adds to the community-driven roots of the Edgewater dive bar.
Though details on the exact opening date of The Sovereign as it is also referred to are hard to come by, accounts peg its founding sometime during the 1940s, a fact supported by the 1950s-era sign that commands the area over the front door. Recent years have seen the sign converted from its original neon composition to white lettering on a blue background, but the bones of the sign remain the same. Above, as is dive bar tradition in Chicago, an Old Style sign inscribed with “Cold Beer” clears up any ambiguity about the offerings inside, all of it supported by a bit of PBR-themed neon in the front window.
Purchased in 2000 by John & Janet Barton in partnership with a third co-owner, a handful of renovations have been made but the interior looks largely untouched. The centerpiece is, of course, the bar itself, a winding wooden structure that takes up almost the entire single room space occupied by Sovereign Liquors. The shape of the structure resembles a ‘P’ with a straight stretch giving way to a rounded cap that adds a little dimension and communal interaction to the drinking. The bar back feels more like a great aunt’s living room furniture than anything else, a series of shelves providing resting places for a series of aged knick-knacks.
Because Sovereign Liquors predates laws governing the separation of liquor & beer purchase (carry-out sales) and on-premise drinking (a bar), the Edgewater institution has the rare distinction of providing both. Common is the intermingling of grabbing a few drinks at the bar before grabbing a six-pack to go, much of that business taking place in the front of the bar. Metal signage atop the bar’s centerpiece mirror reads ‘Cordials. Wines. Whiskies.’ The beer selection here is among the most affordable in Chicago, a wide selection of domestics available for around $3 in a city where that is very much not the norm.
Around the bar, a series of framed photos and beer signs can be found adorning the green and white painted stucco walls. Most interesting is the pair of bulletin boards in the center of the space with countless tacked-up photos of regulars in all sorts of states of inebriation. To underscore the bare bones foundation of Sovereign Liquors, the lighting near these photo collages consists of single lightbulbs housed in sparse metal cages, the simplest form of dive bar lighting this reviewer can picture.
A small alcove in the rear of Sovereign Liquors provides a bit of overflow seating and houses the beer cooler, bowling video game, ATM and wall-mounted jukebox that includes real CDs, some of the mixes created by staff members. A bit of Irish heritage can be seen through a poster here and there depicting a map of the island as well as an Irish flag above the bar that mingles with a few other national varieties.
And for all of these components, Sovereign Liquors serves as a classic neighborhood dive bar, a long-standing Edgewater gathering spot that has seen crowds and clienteles come and go. Common though is the no-frills approach to serving that community both on-site and off-premise, an enduring purpose that has endured time, ownership changes and yes, even hipsters.