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Wicker Dive Bar History, Algren-De Beauvoir Romance Detailed In Tour App

By Alisa Hauser | August 2, 2017 7:16am | Updated on August 2, 2017 7:26am
 The Detour app is a guided tour of Wicker Park dive bars narrated by Liz Mason.
Detour Wicker Park Tour App
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WICKER PARK — A new app tour takes users on a  "Wicker Park: Love, Loss & Booze" journey to five of the neighborhood's most enduring watering holes.

The self-guided 70-minute long audio walking tour on the Detour app is based on the romance between writer Nelson Algren and French writer Simone de Beauvoir and how it fits into Wicker Park, its taverns and landmarks.

The script was written by Paul Durica and Stephanie Jenz.

Narrator Liz Mason, manager of Quimby's Bookstore, 1854 W. North Ave., said "it was awesome and super eye-opening to see the whole process" of the tour coming together.

The Detour app, which charges $5 per download but is offering its roster of 150 tours in 17 cities for free through Labor Day, uses local personalities like Mason to narrate the adventures.

Since the app can track a tour taker's location, it knows when to delve into a new part. The five stops include Rite Liquors, Phyllis' Musical Inn, Happy Village, Innertown Pub and Gold Star.

"The GPS on the tour kicks in the next part of the tour as you reach the spot you’re supposed to be in, which is amazing and magical to me. Technology! We live in the future!" Mason, who publishes printed 'zines, said.

Durica's writing contributions were based on his in-depth historical knowledge of the area as well as his knowledge about Algren and de Beauvoir, while Jenz elaborated on the romance between the two literary greats, Mason said.

"[Jenz] gave it a modern day context with a general theme about different kinds of love. She and I had a series of talks about the meaning of different types of love (for a community, a person, a place, music and so on), and she used her amazing story-telling talent to take these talks and synthesize them into a compelling narrative," Mason said.

Interviews with local musicians, bartenders and writers — Kathy Moseley, Steve Albini, Tim Kinsella, and more — are also incorporated into the tour.

We asked Mason, who's lived in Chicago since the '90s, a few questions about the tour:

What surprising thing did you learn as a result of narrating the tour?

I learned that the antique key-rack at the left of the front door of Gold Star Bar, 1755 W. Division St., was for ahem, well, let’s just say gentlemen could get with a prostitute in a room. Obviously I learned a lot about Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir and their adventures here. But I also really got confirmation of the rich literary legacy of the bars of the Polish parts of Wicker Park. These bars were part of and an indicator of an awesome seedy underbelly: gambling, drugs, dealing (in more ways than one, if you know what I’m saying, in a "Man With the Golden Arm"-kind of a way). This kind of atmosphere is helpful for artists and writers in germinating good material for their work.

Also! Sidenote: I learned Nelson Algren loved cats! This was a fun piece of trivia.

The key rack at Gold Star, dating back to brothel days. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

Fun Fact: This past May marked my 16th year working at Quimby’s. Though Quimby’s is still in Wicker Park, the original Quimby’s opened at the corner of Damen Avenue and Evergreen Street, a block away from Nelson Algren’s final apartment in Chicago [at 1958 W. Evergreen St.] 

Is Wicker Park still cool? In spite of the current “Liquor Park” reputation of the area now, it was once a place for misfits and people who don't fit. I can appreciate this. In declaring whether the area is still cool, I would say it depends on who you’re asking, where you’re standing and what you’re doing!

For more info or to download the app, visit detour.com/chicago/wicker_park.

Mason suggests making sure you have a fully charged phone and a back-up battery or charger before taking the tour.