Discover Chicago's Billy Goat Tavern

  • Billy Goat Tavern

    We don’t often stick to city centers when recommending going in search of a new view — that would rather defeat the point — but the story surrounding this humble hole-in-the-wall in the middle of Chicago is so good we just couldn’t miss the opportunity to tell it.

    "Saturday Night Live" fans may first recognize this local food outlet from Don Novello’s legendary Olympia Café sketch, but it’s legacy started way before John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray made it famous.

    When Greek immigrant, William “Billy Goat” Sianis bought the Lincoln Tavern (then on 1855 W. Madison St.) using a $205 check (that later bounced), it’s unlikely he anticipated the monumental effect his small eatery would have on the Windy City. Despite paying off the dubious check with his first week’s earnings, the establishment’s fortunes — both in reputation and finance — would continue to rise and fall throughout the years that followed. But no one event further helped cement its standing more than the 1944 Republican National Convention. In what would be seen as a brilliant PR stunt these days, Billy hung a sign on his doors saying "No Republicans Allowed," resulting in the place being inundated with angry representatives demanding to be served.

    And that wouldn’t be the last clever trick pulled by the imaginative owner. In the 1970s, Sianis sent a request to the mayor of Chicago asking — quite sincerely — for a liquor license to serve alcohol on the moon. His justification? To serve wandering astronauts and breed the universe’s first moon goats. Obviously.

    Interestingly, moon goats and republicans aren’t even the most celebrated reasons why the tavern is so well known. When Sianis was invited to the nearby Chicago Cubs baseball stadium for a World Series game against the Detroit Tigers, he brought along his pet goat (we’re starting to see a theme here) to witness what would surely be a historic and monumental victory for the home team. But other Cubs fans weren’t as keen on his four-legged friend tagging along, and asked for the animal to be removed. Billy was so incensed by this obvious act of discrimination that he walked out, declaring as he went, "Them Cubs – they ain’t gonna win no more!" And so began "The Curse of the Billy Goat," which is seen as a reason why the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908. Make of that what you will.

    Though it may be known for its wild stories and wacky proprietor, don’t ever make the mistake of thinking the tavern’s reputation is all mouth and no trousers. When your status is built on serving only "Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborgers" you better make sure as heck they taste great. Right?

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