Along a lively stretch of Division Street on the border of Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village, Queen Mary Tavern is mixing inspired cocktails inside a bar that serves as a time capsule for local drinkers.
OUR ARTICLEBY: Christopher Blatner Contributing writer
Drinking is something to be taken seriously in Chicago. Usually done in dimly lit places with potent drinks and a few friends. And other times belly-up to the bar, solo, where the effort is between only you and the barkeep.
Whether in a group or going at it alone, there’s something for everyone at this west side spot. Entering the bar is like taking a journey back in time. Before being revived by Heisler Hospitality (Sportsman’s Club, Revel Room) in 2015, the bar had laid vacant and virtually untouched for nearly 40 years. The one-time Polish tavern is now named after its former owner Mary Kafka aka the Queen of Division Street. Heisler Hospitality has kept the bar almost as they found it. Much of the original woodwork remains, including the bar counter, back bar, and the wood-paneled walls and slatted wood ceiling. The tavern is small, but it feels comfortable and makes smart use of the space. A unique dual-sided peninsula bar extends from the main bar, allowing patrons to sit on both sides. Across from the bar, three giant booths offer a comfortable spot for groups to set up for a night of merrymaking. Each one easily accommodates up to eight people.
if rum and gin don’t suit your taste, no worries, there’s a selection of local beers, scotch and a slew of fortified wines like vermouth, sherry, madeira, and port.
The Queen Mary cocktail menu honors British maritime drinking traditions. That means stiff drinks that are superbly crafted from a massive selection of rum and gin, the preferred booze of British sailors and officers going back more than 300 years. These aren’t just any rum and gin drinks, the Queen Mary mixologists expertly blend in fresh spices, herbs, and liqueurs that lead your senses on a voyage. Take the Westward Bound, a fascinating combination of Henriques & Henriques Rainwater Madeira, Xoriguer Gin de Mahon, lemon, rhubarb, saffron, and allspice. It’s a sensory feast of almonds, orange zest, pine, and sweet, pungent flowers.
If rum and gin don’t suit your taste, no worries, there’s a selection of local beers, scotch and a slew of fortified wines like vermouth, sherry, madeira, and port. If hunger hits, a light menu of caviar, charcuterie, and tinned seafood is available for snacking.
Queen Mary Tavern exceeds the requirements of the most earnest of Chicago drinkers and understands its place in the hierarchy of the drinking scene. It takes its role seriously by serving up potent and skillfully balanced drinks in a space that perfectly walks the line between hole-in-the-wall dive and hipster haven.
Hit up Oyster Happy Hour on Sundays and Mondays from 5-7pm for $1 oysters and $6 classic martinis
Tuesday is movie night. Expect free popcorn and one-night-only cocktail specials. Check the movie schedule on Instagram @queenmarytavern
If you’re on a budget ask about the Daily Grog, Queen Mary’s ever-changing rum punch that’s usually a few bucks less than anything on the main cocktail menu
After a couple drinks, take a 10-minute walk and check out an indie act at The Empty Bottle, one of the best rock rooms in Chicago. Just head west on Division St. and go three blocks south on Western Ave.