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Free Jameson Shots Make ATM Fees Go Down Easy at The Boiler Room

By Mark Konkol | November 25, 2012 11:14am | Updated on November 26, 2012 3:07pm

LOGAN SQUARE — If all the money you waste on ATM fees drives you to drink, this is the place for you.

At The Boiler Room — a cash-only punk-rock pizza bar next the Blue Line California stop  — the guys who run the joint believe whiskey makes everything, even paying the vig at an ATM, better.

When cashless customers try to pay a tab with credit, friendly tattooed bartenders suggest they belly up to the in-house cash machine and bring back the receipt — that worthless paper reminder you got your pocket picked — for free shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey.

"At first they look at you weird. They kind of don’t believe you because it’s random," Boiler Room manager Danny Sawyer said. "Look, nobody likes paying the $2.75 fee, but with free Jameson we're giving them a little bit of good with the bad.”

Of course, the shot really isn’t free. Management cut a deal with the ATM owner to get reimbursed for every receipt that gets redeemed for a shot.

“Our benefit is our customers can get cash and we don’t have to deal with credit cards," Sawyer said. “We break even on the deal. It’s an everybody wins situation.”

Ryan McBride, a Boiler Room regular, confirmed that a shot of Jameson does seem to ease minor pocketbook pain associated with presence of ATM fees.

“Getting a shot just makes you feel less s----y for getting charged to take money out,” he said.

And over the last two years, that policy has created a unique subculture of Samaritans, scavengers and would-be scam artists at the tiny pizza bar recently ranked as the top seller of Jameson in the world.

If you’ve never been there, The Boiler Room has a certain Chicago charm even though its tasty pizza isn't deep dish. The bartop has the look of wooden streets that lined Chicago before The Great Fire. You open L-train doors to get in the bathroom, where you're greated by a CTA recording, "This is Logan." And Kung-Fu movies are projected on double screens tucked inside a boiler removed from a South Side factory.

It's a place where you can swill cheep beer or get bartenders to mix up trendy hard liquor concoctions. But make no mistake, Jameson is a Boiler Room staple. They serve it on tap like beer and even put it in the soft-serve ice cream — an edible shot that can get you drunk. You can even get it in a glass of Lion Stout as the vanilla-whiskey ice cream drink that looks like a root beer float and packs the punch of a boilermaker. And the most popular menu item is the hipster-approved PBJ special — a slice of pizza, can of PBR and shot of Jameson — for $7.50.

But what's really special about this pizza tavern is the withdraw-for-a-shot policy that makes ATM receipts a currency that is worthless to some, gold to others and — if you sit at the bar long enough — a chance to see the lengths drinkers will go to get a free shot.

“I’ve seen people go digging through the trash can for receipts,” Boiler Room patron John Burch said.

Sometimes, people who don’t know better leave behind a receipt left on the machine, which has scored McBride a free “Jame-o” shot or two. On the best days, teetotalers and folks in a hurry offer up their ATM receipt as a random act of barroom kindness.

“I’ve gotten about a dozen free shots that way. I’d say one every two months,” McBride said. “Usually, though, people take the shots themselves or if you ask for their receipt they say, ‘No.’”

The Boiler Room is that kind of place — a drinker’s place, server Ryan Poole said.

“People are troopers here. They come here because they like Jameson,” he said. “For the most part people want shots, then another round of shots and after an hour or so get another slice of pizza.”

Sometimes, patrons tip Poole with ATM receipts, which he kindly accepts and uses according to his mood.

“If there’s a very cool table, you know, I’ll use a receipt or two on them,” he said. “But other times I’ll wait until I’m done with my shift and take those shots myself.”

Some drinkers, of course, also see the Boiler Room’s receipt policy as chance cheat the system.

But if you think you can get a shot by turning in a receipt for a balance inquiry or canceled transaction, Poole has news for you.

“I’m a hawk when it comes to the scam,” he said. “It ain’t happening, man.”