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Billy Goat Tavern, Born 1934
I had a completely different newsletter planned for today. But on Monday at lunchtime, I started seeing all the posts on Instagram: It’s National Cheeseburger Day.
With a devotion to burgers like J. Wellington Wimpy’s, I grabbed my bag and headed to the Billy Goat Tavern for a cheeseburger.
A Brief History of Billy Goat Tavern
On Michigan Avenue near Hubbard there are two plaques to give passersby a little history:
Established in 1934 the Billy Goat Tavern was located across from the original Chicago Stadium. It was from there that William ‘Goat’ Sianis put the Curse on the Chicago Cubs.
In 1964 the Billy Goat Tavern moved to Michigan Avenue. It was the inspiration for a Saturday Night Live skit, is frequented by reporters and has become an Historic Chicago Tourist Landmark with its famous ‘cheezborgers.’
Getting to the Billy Goat is an exciting ‘finding the low door in the wall’ experience. One minute you’re on Michigan Avenue, looking at the gorgeous Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower. The next you’re descending a flight of stairs that take you out of the sunlight and under the Magnificent Mile to lower Michigan Avenue. You make a quick right and walk a few steps until you see the glow of neon. Despite the Billy Goat’s fame, you’ve reached what feels like a secret destination.
The minute I walk into the tavern I feel I’m in another world. I loved my double-patty-cheeseburger and the Kaiser roll it’s served on, along with chips (no fries) and Pepsi (or was it Coke?)
And talking with Bobby Kyriakopoulos who has been behind the bar for close to thirty years is the greatest.
In this location there are sixty years of conversations embedded in the walls — from regulars, tourists and a fleet of reporters (including Mike Royko) from the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Daily News and Chicago-Sun Times. I’ve just ordered a book by the Trib’s Rick Kogan: A Chicago Tavern: A Goat, A Curse and the American Dream and can’t wait to read it.
There are now seven Billy Goat Taverns in Illinois, and one in D.C., but the one on lower Michigan is the “second” original.
Legend has it that a baby goat fell from a truck in front of the original tavern and Mr. Sianis, a Greek immigrant and the owner loved it. He made it the mascot, named it “Murphy” and renamed the tavern (then the Lincoln) to the Billy Goat. An iconic eatery was born.
The Curse of the Billy Goat
Then in 1945, Sianis, who was a huge Chicago Cubs fan, brought the goat to a World Series game with the Detroit Tigers for good luck, only to be denied entrance. He was told the goat was too smelly. Sianis was insulted. The goat was insulted. The Cubs lost and the curse lasted for 71 seasons, finally ending in 2016.
Saturday Night Live, 1978
If you’ve seen SNL episodes from the 70’s and 80’s you will remember comedian Don Novello’s portrayal of Father Guido Sarducci, the wacky Vatican news correspondent. John Belushi and Novello both frequented the Billy Goat and it inspired Novello to write the sketches about “The Olympia Café” which were inspired by the Billy Goat and that he thought captured the rhythm of the place.
My favorite long-suffering Cubs fan is the legend Bob Newhart, and I was so happy for him when they finally won. As the Cubs were getting closer to winning the Series, he posted this:
I moved to Chicago in September, 2016 and a month later the Cubs won the World Series. I will never forget the jubilation on the streets of Chicago that night. Car horns were honking in celebration till dawn and I thought: “I’m gonna like it here.”
And I do.
Many thanks to Mayra and Bobby for their hospitality and warmth yesterday. To learn more about the history of the Tavern, click here: TheBillyGoatTavern
See you soon!
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