By David Mojowkn
Chicago’s shiny center of condos and clubs. But it wasn’t long ago that the world of old-time ethnic daytime drunks collided with tattoo-covered, graphic-novel-reading artists and students, turning West Ukrainian Village into a cheap drinkers’ paradise. Such was the case in early January 2002. The obligatory Christmas events were over, and the snow was falling at an inch per hour. Why not stop for a beer until it slowed down? Tuman’s Alcohol Abuse Center, at 2159 West Chicago, was our spot. But it did not open until 2pm. It was 10:30 in the morning.
A half block east we saw the hand-painted sign that read “Pop’s Tavern.” Water-damaged walls and falling plaster did not hide the red, white and black electrical wires dangling from naked fixtures like candy canes. Instead of old couches in the back, there was an assortment of lawn chairs and outdoor tables.
The bartender/owner greeted us in a thick Southern accent. He rubbed his eyes as he served us.
“How’s it goin’?” we asked.
“Not good,” he answered. “Friend of mine died last night.” He stroked his ZZ Top beard.
“His name was Eddie Shaver. The son of a country singer, but you wouldn’t know him. Flying down South for the funeral tomorrow.”
“My god,” I exclaimed. “That’s Billy Joe Shaver’s son.”
Shaver’s songs have been recorded by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Elvis, to name a few. His son Eddie died on December 31, 2001. “You know Billy Joe Shaver?”
The bartender came alive. “Known him since we were kids.”
He produced a bottle of Maker’s Mark Whiskey and put it on the bar. “Boys, let’s drink to Eddie Shaver.”
The whiskey flowed for over two hours while the snow covered the city like a blanket of white crushed ice. Sometimes we paid, sometimes we didn’t. He didn’t seem to care. “Place was condemned by the city. Closing any day now.”
Peering out the window, we saw a black limousine pull up in front. The men dressed in topcoats and women in gowns stepped out into the street. A chauffer, dressed in a grey uniform, opened the door. In his best “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” voice he inquired, “Is this Pop’s for Champagne?” referring to the bistro formerly at 2934 North Sheffield (now at 601 North State) which serves champagne at prices as high as $450 a bottle.
The bartender laughed. “This is Pop’s. It sure as hell ain’t Pop’s for Champagne!”
Stumbling down the street we headed into another West Village bar. We were greeted at the door by a man of about 55 with long, Buffalo Bill-style hair wearing an old CTA bus-driver’s hat with a dime-store badge in the middle. He had another silver plastic badge on his shirt and wore a thick belt with a nightstick hanging from a holster.
“You boys have ID?” he asked.
After we produced our licenses he waved us in.
“That’s the sheriff,” a West Village regular replied. “He comes around all the bars here. Don’t know how he got that way but he’s harmless.”
The snow and the beer continued. The “sheriff” sat at a table by the door drinking soda pop, checking all the male customers. When a female walked in, he simply tipped the bill of his CTA cowboy hat and drawled out “ma’am.”
I put Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Woman #9,” on the CD box. Suddenly, the sheriff got up and started dancing and yelling out–“Everybody must get stoned.”
The regulars at the bar were amazed he was acting this way. Then the sheriff suddenly yelled out. “I haven’t heard this song in thirty years. The last time I heard it, I was taking hits of acid!”
The day ended at Tuman’s. Walking in, we were greeted by a collie. Tuman’s was always filled with dogs. Sometimes I wondered if people simply left them there before they went to work, knowing that they would be petted and fed Slim Jims all day. Tuman’s was known for their Guinness Specials. We had a few to chase down the Maker’s Mark, Old Milwaukee and whatever else we had consumed during nearly eight hours of drinking. It had finally stopped snowing, but by then it didn’t really matter.