Go east, and it’s summer on the beach. Right here, it’s summer on the street.
A drunken parade every time. The art punks and the sandaled sirens, the transplant khaki crew and tattooed industry. Wicker Park’s Pontiac Café, in all its glory, is a window into the neighborhood itself, as all mingle and burn under the heavy sun and the rays that reflect off the Damen Street cement. Under the roof, the bar’s empty—the outdoor patio houses the mayhem, enclosed by a two-foot fence to keep the animals from wildly escaping into the street. The Blue Line train barrels and shrieks overhead, the night’s act at Double Door pours equipment inside. It’s 2pm on a Saturday and this morning’s hangover is long gone. Eat a sandwich, have another Bitburger, chances are you’re here for awhile.
You head to Lake Michigan on a ninety-degree day in July, plop yourself on the sand and close your eyes, and you could be in California for all you know. At the Pontiac it truly is the summer in the city, a great big Lovin’ Spoonful of screeching brakes, CTA announcements and the occasional drift of the smell of garbage. The spot was once a gas station—nothing could be more appropriate—the grand pusher of all things urban. Suddenly, a whiff of meat, another half-pound burger served.
The Lincoln Park professionals go to Pontiac to have some brews with their bros, the Carrie Bradshaws soak up the sun, the bartenders and servers from other bars in the neighborhood have a bite and quick drink with some friends before they start their shifts and the hipsters just want to be seen, by those they know, those they don’t know and those they met last night at Rainbo. Not quite the meat market that’s Nick’s Beer Garden or Estelle’s, both just around the corner, you’re not embarrassed to be there while the sky’s still a rich blue. The Pontiac’s a street fest every day, most of the food under ten bucks, the beer no cheaper than $4.
Nighttime’s a different story. Though it’s easy to imagine that those that parade in the day are still at it at night, it still seems like a different crowd. Weekend live-band karaoke draws in hoards—you can feel the inexperience in your bones as you walk down neighboring Milwaukee Avenue. It’s just not the same. The sun is as important as the booze. The Pontiac dominates the afternoon-drink market—it’s a sun-beer saloon.
“But I can see you/Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun/You got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby/And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong/After the boys of summer have gone.” Love for you will still be strong? It better be. (Tom Lynch)
The Pontiac Café & Bar, 1531 North Damen, (773)252-7767.