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PHOTOS: Sportsman's Club Transforms Old Dive into Cozy Neighborhood Tavern

By Alisa Hauser | January 3, 2014 12:36pm
 Sportsman's Club opened Dec. 20 at 948 N. Western Ave. in Ukrainian Village/East Humboldt Park.
Sportsman's Club
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE —  Next to a gas station and one block south of the venerable Empty Bottle music club, a new-old tavern called Sportsman's Club is livening up a stretch of Western Avenue with cheap beer, classic cocktails and booths with built-in checkerboard tables.

Catering mainly to working-class Polish people since 1989, the bar —  near the southwest corner of Augusta Boulevard and Western Avenue in Ukrainian Village — was taken over by the Heisler Hospitality Group (Kevin Heisner, Matt Eisler) last year. 

The group, which also owns Bangars & Lace, Trencherman, Revel Room and Bar DeVille, left the long wooden bar they believe dates back to the 1940s intact, while making other modifications, such as installing a new door and front facade.

 Jeff Donahue (l.) and Wade McElroy, managing partners at Sportsman's Club, 948 N. Western Ave.
Jeff Donahue (l.) and Wade McElroy, managing partners at Sportsman's Club, 948 N. Western Ave.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

Since reopening a few days before Christmas, the Sportsman's Club hasn't had a slow night, according to managing partner Jeff Donahue.

"The neighborhood response has been amazing.  We've been catering to a lot of neighborhood people and industry people who [live around here and] come in later,"  Donahue said.

Donahue was busy pouring drinks around 7 p.m. Thursday along with fellow bartender and co-managing partner Wade McElroy , who was using an Amaro machine to blend an Italian liqueur he described as "sweet, bitter, smoky, with a low alcohol content."

Costing $4 for a shot or $6 poured like an old fashioned, the "Amaro Machine," like all of the Sportsman Club's drinks, is served in vintage bar ware manufactured by the Federal Glass Co. and emblazoned with a wild goose.

The "sportsman" theme is further carried out with stuffed deer heads and fish that adorn the walls and with games of checkers at every booth.  (Hand-carved chess pieces are available too, but require an I.D. as a deposit).

Donahue and McElroy met in 2011 when they were working as bartenders at Barrelhouse Flat and recently left positions at other area restaurants and bars to become the Sportsman's Club's day-to-day managing partners.

"With our cocktails changing daily, we like to do a mix of classic and classically inspired house cocktails," McElroy said.

On Thursday, the Sportsman's Club letter board menu was was advertising "The Boulevardier," which McElroy described as "a classic aromatic whiskey drink, and a close cousin to the Negroni," and "The Lion's Tail," a sour whiskey drink made with bourbon, lime, allspice dram, and Angostura bitters.

In addition to the four rotating daily cocktails that cost $10 each, and seven beers on tap, drink menu mainstays include the $5 Low Life (Miller High Life with a shot of Whiskey) and a glass of Old Style for $3.

Adding to the ambience, songs arranged by Scott McNiece of Uncanned Music play on a vintage reel-to-reel tape player housed in a cabinet next to the bar.

McNiece put together four three-hour long tapes of songs, playing everything from Leonard Cohen to Neil Young and Blitzen Trapper's "Stolen Shoes & a Rifle" along with Polish rock music.

Though the bar does not serve  food — and specials like the Amaro Machine, which serves as a digestif and is good for those who pop by the Sportsman's Club after eating out elsewhere — patrons are welcome to bring food in or to order from area restaurants that deliver, McElroy said.

For those that want to take drinks to go, a carry-out packaged goods program is planned, and it will "focus on wine, bottled beer, bitters, and whiskey flasks," according to McElroy.

Wood and ceramic bar tools designed by Trevor Wendell, who built the Sportsman's Club's checkerboard tables, eventually will be offered for sale, too.

Sportsman's Club, 948 N. Western Ave.  Hours are 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.  Ph: 872-206-8054.