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Days of Old - Wicker Park's Pontiac Cafe

Photo: Grub Street Chicago

In the midst of an ever-changing neighborhood and the increasing number of posh bars and high-end eateries, you just can't help at times to be nostalgic for the great old spots like the Pontiac Cafe. Long before there was Big Star, there was the Pontiac Cafe located at 1531 N. Damen Avenue; one of our very favorite neighborhood dives and one of Wicker Park's most impressive icons closing in 2008 after 15 years in business.

Pontiac Cafe transformed an old gas station into one of the neighborhood's most comfortable and cozy go-to bars. Back then the patio was huge...bigger than it is now. But it was different. Sure the Pontiac Cafe was crowded. The location at Damen Avenue and Wicker Park Avenue (just south of the 6 corners intersection) has always made it an uber-convenient location.

But it was more than that. Artists and local musicians would hang out there (and play there). It was the go-to place after work because the burgers and fries were good - and cheap - and the crab cake po boy wasn't bad either.

Live Band Karaoke was phenomenal here as was country music night and of course, the bingo.

Perfect? Absolutely not. This was a down-n-dirty dive ...and we do mean dirty... and you might only see your server once an hour. But hey that's what gave it its charm and authenticity. 

So yes Big Star is a lovely (clean) addition to the neighborhood as are all of the high-end restaurants made of foodie dreams.

But there are days the grit, heart and soul of the Pontiac Cafe are missed by this writer and Wicker Park resident. Anyone else?



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