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Billy Goat Tavern

November 7th 2014
  • We don’t often stick to city centres when recommending going in search of a new view – that would rather defeat the point – but the story surrounding this humble hole-in-the-wall in the middle of Chicago is so good we just couldn’t miss out on an opportunity to tell it.

    Saturday Night Live fans may first recognise this local food outlet from Don Novello’s legendary Olympia Café sketch (see below if you haven’t had the pleasure), but it’s legacy started way before the likes of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray made it famous.

    When Greek immigrant, William “Billy Goat” Sianis bought the Lincoln Tavern (then on 1855 W. Madison St) using a $205 cheque (that later bounced), it’s unlikely he anticipated the monumental effect his small eatery would have on The Windy City. Despite paying off the dubious cheque with his first week’s earnings, the establishment’s fortunes – both in reputation and finance – would continue to rise and fall throughout the years that followed. But no one event further helped cement its standing more than the 1944 Republican National Convention. In what would be seen as a brilliant PR stunt these days, Billy hung a sign upon his doors saying ‘No Republicans Allowed’, resulting in the place being inundated with angry representatives demanding to be served.

    And that wouldn’t be the last clever trick pulled by the imaginative owner either. In the 1970s, Sianis sent a request to the mayor of Chicago asking – quite sincerely – for a liquor license to serve alcohol on the moon. His justification? To serve wandering astronauts and breed the universe’s first moon goats. Obviously.

    Interestingly, moon goats and republicans aren’t even the most celebrated reasons why the tavern is so well known. When Sianis was invited to the nearby Chicago Cubs baseball stadium for a World Series game against the Detroit Tigers, he brought along his pet goat (we’re starting to see a theme here) to witness what would surely be an historical and monumental victory for the home team. But other Cubs fans weren’t as keen on his four-legged friend tagging along, and asked for the animal to be removed. Billy was so incensed by this obvious act of discrimination that he walked out, declaring as he went, ‘Them Cubs – they ain’t gonna win no more!’. And so began ‘The Curse of the Billy Goat’ which has seen the Chicago Cubs lose every World Series since 1908. Make of that what you will.

    Though it may be known for its wild stories and wacky proprietor, don’t ever make the mistake of thinking the tavern’s reputation is all mouth and no trousers. When your status is built on serving only ‘Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborgers’ you better make sure as heck they’re taste great. Right?