Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Schaller’s Pump a disappearing part of the old Sout’ Side Irish part of Chicago

Schaller’s Pump is a Bridgeport neighborhood tavern that could claim the distinction of being the oldest in the city of Chicago – tracing its lineage from 1881 until Sunday, when it closed for good.
One-and-a-third centuries of Bridgeport drinking now complete
It could also claim its current ownership by George Schaller and his family, which has held the property since the days following Prohibition. We’re bound to get a few sentimental reports in coming days (the Chicago Tribune kicked in with theirs on Monday) about this “cultural” loss to the city.

YET LET’S BE honest. There were elements of that place near 37th and Halsted streets that weren’t exactly the most welcoming aspects of Chicago. It wouldn’t shock me if a great number of Chicagoans had never been there and probably wouldn’t have given much thought to setting foot in a place that viewed itself principally as existing to serve the people of Bridgeport.

The pea soup, meatloaf and Prime Rib on weekends? I never experienced them.

Personally, I only visited the place once. It was back in 1999 and several of my work colleagues and I wound up going together to a ballgame – at then-New Comiskey Park to see the White Sox take on the visiting Chicago Cubs.

It’s actually the only time I ever have gone to see a Sox/Cubs game (too many knuckleheads feel compelled to show up, which is why I usually catch those games on television or by reading a box score). Afterward, the batch of us decided to try to hit an area bar for a quick drink.

WHICH IS HOW we wound up walking over from Shields Avenue to Halsted Street and spent a bit of time at Schaller’s Pump. Bridgeport ain’t like Wrigley Field with the Cubby Bear Lounge located across the street,

The place was (I recall) in a good mood, largely because the White Sox that particular night had come from behind to beat the Cubs.

Our group took up a separate table and was pretty much watched quietly by people who wondered if we’d cause trouble because it was pretty obvious we weren’t Bridgeport native.
Will Sox fans have to drink in stadium bar now?

I do recall one guy asking me “what the story was” about our group, which had several younger obviously-suburban women and also some of the non-white types that a certain element of Bridgeport had long feared coming into their neighborhood.

WHEN TOLD THAT we were a batch of people who worked together, he kind of sighed, rolled his eyes then focused his attention back to his beer.

Like I already said, it helped that the White Sox won, so people were in a good mood. If the Cubs had won, maybe his reaction would have been more harsh.

But people were happy, particularly when the one colleague of mine who had worn a Cubs jersey into Schaller’s Pump was immediately told upon entrance to take it off (he did, and the bar’s staff kept it behind the counter; returning it upon his departure).

There also was the semi-humorous moment; when the bar’s patrons – upon seeing a televised recap of how the Sox beat the Cubs that night wound up bursting out in song. Giving us a genuine take on “South Side Irish,” which one of my work colleagues mocked by referring to it as the “Band Aid jingle.”

A GOOD THING that the Schaller’s crowd didn’t hear that wisecrack. It might have been contemplated as “fightin’ words.”

But no, there wasn’t a fight. In fact, we had our drink there, then moved on. Which probably kept the night from escalating into an incident.
Sox' ballpark doesn't have a Cubby Bear-like bar across the street
Although I recall one of my former colleagues saying she had now “experienced” the South Side, and I recall her asking me what it had been like to have “grown up” in the area. Even though the part of the South Side I call home is about 60 blocks further south and way to the east.

We of South Chicago and the East Side (and the 10th Ward in general) think of Bridgeport as being “way up North,” which is a thought that I’m sure would grossly offend the 11th Ward locals who now won’t have Schaller’s to hang out at to console themselves.


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