IRVING PARK — To Angie Shkundrich, the American Dream looks an awful lot like a neighborhood dive bar.
This weekend, the Yugoslavian immigrant, who arrived in Chicago in 1972, will celebrate 25 years as the owner of Angie's Bar at the corner of Kedzie and Waveland avenues, where she's been serving up shots of Malort — "I tried it once and never again" — and PBR in a can long before it was an ironic hipster statement.
On Friday, patrons can come for the drink specials — $1 shots, $5 pitchers — and stay to meet the woman hundreds of patrons call "Mama."
At the age of 25, Shkundrich left what's now Serbia to join her sister and brother-in-law in Chicago. Within five years, working three jobs, she had scraped together enough money to buy her first business, a restaurant.
"I like to be in control," she said in a quiet, slightly-accented English.
A succession of bars and restaurants followed, including 10 years in Lincoln Square at the space now occupied by Essence of India. Shkundrich, who raised three children as a single mom, eventually planted roots in Irving Park. The bar, at 3700 N. Kedzie Ave., doubles as her home.
The building also houses a 200-seat banquet hall that once hosted an election night victory bash for fellow Serb and now former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Revelers no doubt noshed on Skundrich's specialties — roast pork, potato salad and cabbage rolls, a spread she also lays out for patrons on Bears game days.
Aside from an occasional brush with the rich and incarcerated, Shkundrich is happiest mixing it up with the cast of characters who frequent the pub, including a sizeable contingent from the neighboring post office.
"I come from upstairs, sit here and watch," she said from her perch at the end of the bar. "People respect me. If I'm here, they'll be good."
"It's like 'Cheers.' It's not the prettiest place, but it's the best place," said Mike Dixon, a six-day-a-week regular who serves as the bar's unofficial goodwill ambassador and is an unabashed fan of Shkundrich.
"She's got thousands of people who love her. She changed a lot of lives in this neighborhood. She sleeps good at night," he said.
"If they need food, job, apartment for a couple of months, they can move in with me," Shkundrich said. "I was raised like that, to share. My father was the same way."
Dixon volunteered that Shkundrich also cooks up dozens of turkeys for the homeless on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"They call her St. Angie," he said.
Her reward has been the countless friends she's made over the years.
"It's hard to spend all your life in a bar. But I met a lot of good people here. I don't think I could live without people," she said. "When I go on vacation, I miss all of them."