Do yourself and everyone a favor. If you miss your mother’s Sunday dinner pasta spread and need an excuse to go out and explore something new in Chicago, go to La Scarola.This Italian restaurant is bunkered down right off the Grand Blue Line stop in the industrial, used to be Italian enclave of River West. The place has been there for a good long time and the pictures of famous Chicagoans and Italian Americans decorating the walls (as any REAL Italian joint should) attests to this. Grand avenue in Chicago has long been a staple of the Italian American history in the city. It’s industrial outlying area makes finding this small corner of the neighborhood that much more special.
Take one look around La Scarola and you will notice immediately that the portions are huge and for the price you really can’t beat it. The place is snug however and it tends to fill up pretty quick so you might want to get there early. I’ve never not had success with walking up though. Thus bringing us to Richards…
Richard’s bar is part two to Grand Avenue. The bars charm is in it’s neighborhood temperament and classic Chicago Juke Box. It’s bright when you walk in and not a large place at that. It’s old time Chicago at it’s best. The place is stale and smells of smoke…like any great relic should. Except this place is one of the only establishments in the city that allows smoking still. Nevermind the NO SMOKING sign above the bar…this bar takes it’s customer back. You may even catch yourself waiting for someone to offer you a Quaalude.
If La Scarola DOES have a wait, tell them you are going over to Richards for a drink. It’s the perfect setting for a before or after drink…or both. You have your nice bottle of Pino Noir at La Scarola…maybe a shot of Buca to help you digest the barrel of delicious gnocci you forced down your gulliver, but at Richards you do shots. First of all it seems that everyone that works there’s name is Bobby. This only helps add to the allure of one of the last great Chicago bars.
When you are in there notice the double exits. Always need a back door for the getaway. This isn’t a place where you want to order a raspberry twisted barrel oak amber cask whiskey sour. You can get beat up doing things like that.
Depending on the night you go to Richards it could be packed to the rafters with Yuppies, union guys, local vagrants, hipsters, all of which somehow end up there at the same time. Dancing to what seems like the Blues Brothers soundtrack. Like I said, “Real Chicago”. On other nights you can find it quiet and cozy. Grab a seat at the bar enjoy the cheap drinks and the pictures of movie gangsters on the walls.
It’s a rare treat to find an entire nights entertainment sitting right next to one another. It’s one of the reasons I find River West such a fantastic part of Chicago. Amidst all the warehouses, chop shops, and rusted out industrial parks, there is a tremendous dose of authentic Chicago heritage waiting.