Yep, just spent time at Billygoat Tavern, made famous by the Saturday Night Live Belushi/Ackroyd/Murray sketch.  “No fries. Chips!”   Sam Sianis, the owner, has worked the grill and the customers for ages.  He sent me off with a smile, wave, and triple cheezborger.  Part of a larger travel piece for the Weekend Wall Street Journal –

More from the WSJ feature – one of my favorite views of Chicago is at the Michigan Avenue Bridge.  No matter what time of day, if the sun’s out the light bounces on the skyscraper windows, making the canyon gleam in unexpected places.

Schwa restaurant.  Octopus with pineapple, macadamia nut and char,  style of Hawaiian poke.

The Violet Hour, home of cocktails with a provenance –

Architect Lorenzo Piano designed the Modern Wing to the Art Institute – daytime, the gallery light is perfect. Nighttime, the outside’s a gem.

Richard Wright auction house –

The Isle of Man is a store specializing in men’s clothing and… umm.. accessories.  Like flamethrowers.


69 replies »

  1. Incredibly cool…my boyfriend was standing behind me while I read this doing the “Cheezborgercheezborgercheezborger Pepsi. No Coke” line over and over again — only slightly annoying, but a good nostalgic memory nonetheless!


  2. The Violet Hour looks really cool. Though I am sure my (cough) grace would disrupt the place. Love the gray tones in that cit scape. It was like the sun had forgot to rise, or better yet subtley oozed out into the street under a large over coat. Very cool. Real.

  3. The cheeseburgers in the Tavern look good! We don’t have SNL here so I don’t get that connection but I can totally feel his character when I look at the Sam Sianis!

    • Hi Katie – it was a funny comedy sketch on late-night US television, aired, I hate to say it, some 33 years ago. Many of the actors and writers came from Chicago and knew Billygoat’s well. It was at a time when everybody was watching that show, Saturday Night Live, and for weeks – months, even, afterwards – it became a mantra. You’d hear it everywhere. You really don’t need to have seen the show to appreciate the amazing character of the place.

  4. Ah, the Billy Goat… love that place. Chicago is my favorite US city, by far. Great pictures and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  5. The Isle of Man store sounds pretty amazing. I mean, what man doesn’t go shopping for clothes and think to himself, “If only this place sold flamethrowers…”?

    Love the photos!

  6. Thanks for showing us the origin of some American pop culture! Who hasn’t been a smarty pants to some innocent waitress and when asked what do you wanted to order they said in their best John Belushi accent, Cheezborgercheezborgercheezborger

    Great pics in a fun post. Thanks for sharing.



  7. Awesome pictures! I am an independent travel agent who is new to blogging and looking for followers. My blog name is Dream Come True Travel, be sure to check it out and contact me if you have questions.

      • I love the location, especially when you get there from gleamy upper Michigan Ave. Down the stairs, past the loading docks, and even when you reach the front door, it’s STILL a walkdown. Too cool. Gritty. But not the cheezborgers.

      • Maybe it would be as well to mention that there are a couple of satellite locations–including at Navy Pier of all places–but to my mind the real Billy Goat experience is down at that corner below Michigan Avenue.

        And Lower Michigan Avenue connects with Lower Wacker Drive and some other lower-level streets to make what is almost a city beneath the city. I don’t know how the current construction is affecting this, but at one time you could walk the lower streets most of the way from the Union Pacific commuter station on the west side of the Loop to North Michigan–much of the time skirting the river that your fourth and fifth shots show off so well. Quite gritty and a little spooky. Just this morning I happened to read an essay Neil Gaiman wrote about the genesis of Neverwhere and how he developed the idea of London Below; those walks through “Chicago Below” were what I thought of.

      • This is a good point: Billygoat Tavern has outposts that, while they might have flair, don’t possess the depth of character the lower Michigan (430 North Michigan, #1, technically) location has in abundance. I regret that a lot of the character’s been renovated out of those lower street levels you’ve mentioned, and I’d be hard pressed to find a decent walking route that wasn’t at the moment shared with apocalyptic construction or texting drivers. This doesn’t mean there aren’t corners, ramps or full blocks that are exploration-worthy. Bar none, the best way to see decent underbelly is to take a boat tour that features the architecture – they’re amazing. Unless, of course, you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself under the Dave Matthews Band’s tour bus, notorious for having emptied their toilets through one of the grated bridges and onto an architectural tour boat….

  8. I love, love, love the very first picture– the one of Sam. The Billygoat Tavern is one of my favorite little spots in Chicago. So much character. Thanks for making me smile this morning with your lovely post.

    • Funny thing – despite the fact that it’s been immortalized by a legendary comedy sketch, this place continues to feel like it’s the real deal. Although Sam continues to work the place, his son has a very active role. Quite the family enterprise – and beyond the lunch counter, it’s an outstanding bar. Loads of character and characters.

    • Chicago at its best is like a good lasagne: highly layered, recently unfrozen, a little cheesy and, depending on its age, it just might kill you. It’s a spectacular city, both old and new. With great cocktails AND cheezborgers.

  9. Great post of Chicago! One of my favorite city’s is US. Food looks yummy! Thanks for your contribution!

  10. On my numerous visits to Chicago the one thing I wouldn’t miss for the world is the Art Institute. Now that my father no longer lives there I am ashamed to admit I can’t go see its glorious lighting. The pizza can’t compare with the buildings.
    Although that hamburger looks pretty good right now.

  11. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! And thank you for a lovely stroll down Memory Lane. I love Chicago and it’s been a few years since my last visit. I’ve spent many happy times in the Billy Goat, which is legendary for being so hard to find that even some city residents don’t know where it is. Great pictures too – we share a photographic style.

  12. Great photos! My favorite cocktail ever was in Chicago at the top of the space needle in that bar (is that what you call that thing?).. Anyway it was some kind of chocolate raspberry truffle – it was HEAVENLY! You have some great photos here. I can’t wait to get back to Chicago one day soon! Congrats on being freshly pressed!

    • Thanks! I’m guessing you went to the bar at the 95th, way up at the top of the John Hancock building. What a view. Many years ago I had an assignment that featured best area bartenders and cocktails, and the 95th was way up on the list. Their featured drink was a Sidecar that, I must admit, I couldn’t leave without trying. After four different locations and numerous remixes, I had an entirely new perspective, you might say. Although I haven’t haunted the place recently, I’m guessing it remains highly visitable. Just like the rest of Chicago, of course.

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