The Cubby Bear North is the far north suburb's sister location to the original Cubby Bear bar/restaurant/music venue located directly caddy-corner from Wrigley Field in Chicago. The original Cubby Bear was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the Top 25 Sports Bars in America back in 2005. It's a place I've visited many times before going across the street to a Chicago Cubs game and it's a pretty fun place to visit. They also make one of the best bloody mary's I've ever had. Like the original, the Cubby Bear North is a place I've been to many times in the past, but only recently went back to for a late dinner on a cold winter's evening.
The original Cubby Bear at the corner of Addison and Clark (see map) started in 1953 when Greek immigrant Gus Loukas and his wife, Sophia, opened the Cubs Tap. The Cubs Tap evolved into the Cubs Pub, then it became the Cubs Grill. In 1978, Loukas' sons, George and Angelo, bought the place and turned it into the Cubby Bear Lounge. Both the Loukas brothers have a background in football - Angelo Loukas is a former professional football player who played a couple years with the Buffalo Bills, while George Loukas is a former Southern Illinois football player who was one of the best running backs in school history. George Loukas is a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
George Loukas and his wife, Patty, also have a somewhat famous daughter. Christina Loukas represented the USA in diving at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, placing ninth in the 3 meter springboard competition, and is a former collegiate and national amateur women's diving champion. The Loukas' son, Nick, helps with the day-to-day operations of the original Cubby Bear.
When Angelo and George Loukas took over the Cubby Bear Lounge, the Wrigleyville area was in a state of quick deterioration . The Cubs weren't drawing well, the neighborhood was falling into decay and the area became a series of dilapidated buildings and seedy joints. George Loukas helped spearhead a movement to clean up the area, and almost as a coincidence, the Cubs began to draw larger crowds to their games. In the late 80's, Loukas began to book nationally known musical acts into the Cubby Bear. The family also opened Vines on Wrigley next door and the Sports Corner at the southeast corner across from Wrigley Field. They also own one of the rooftop buildings just beyond the outfield wall of Wrigley Field on Waveland Ave.
Over 10 years ago, the Loukas family expanded to north suburban Lincolnshire and opened the Cubby Bear North fashioned as a roadhouse style restaurant/bar/music venue on Milwaukee Ave. (see map) It was one of the first of what is now many restaurants in the immediate area across the road at the Lincolnshire Commons shopping and entertainment district.
As I said, I've eaten at the Cubby Bear North many times over the years enjoying their Italian beef sandwiches, burgers, and ribs. The menu at the Cubby Bear North also features steaks, seafood, pasta entrees and your normal bar appetizers. Cubby Bear North also features a late night bar menu that features burgers, tacos, cheese pizzas and their famous (and yummy) Garlic French fries. The beer menu at Cubby Bear North features a number of your normal domestic beers, along with a nice mix of eclectic beers from microbreweries around the Midwest including Three Floyds, Great Lakes, and Metropolitan.
The Cubby Bear North seems to be a little bigger than the Cubby Bear in the city. At least it's more spread out and open compared to the original Cubby Bear. There's a main bar area to the right as you walk in, a large dining/dance hall in the middle, and another bar area on the far south side of the establishment. A large stage sits on the long far wall of the building and a couple large projection screens drop down for sports viewing when bands aren't playing. Flat screen televisions proliferate the walls, nooks and crannies of the Cubby Bear North.
It was close to 8:30 p.m. when I arrived at the Cubby Bear North and took a seat at the main bar. A few basketball games were going on and I was pretty content to watch some of those as well as to read my Chicago Tribune. The bartender came by with a menu and asked what I wanted to drink. I looked into the large glass cooler in front of me and saw that they had Old Style. I immediately ordered one of those.
I wasn't overly certain what to get that particular evening. I didn't want barbecue because it was so late and I knew it would sit in my stomach like a rock all night. A burger or sandwich didn't sound all that pleasing at that point in the evening. The special that evening was 2 for 1 pizza - buy one pizza and get a second one of equal or lesser value for free - and there were a number of people in the Cubby Bear North enjoying a pizza. But I definitely didn't want a pizza.
I pared my choices down to Cubby Bear North's Chicken Vesuvio (and I knew it wouldn't be as good as what I've had at a couple Italian restaurants in the past), seared fish tacos (another thing that I was sort of skeptical about, given that the Cubby Bear North isn't really known as a seafood restaurant), or their rigatoni, served with chunks of sweet Italian sausage, topped with mozzarella and baked. I thought that would be pretty good and I decided to try that.
About 20 minutes after I ordered, a waitress brought the steaming bowl of baked rigatoni over to me. I got some parmesan cheese and crushed red peppers to throw on top. It looked pretty similar to the "Wigatoni" that I love so much at the Wig and Pen in the Iowa City/Coralville area. The mozzarella was caramelized on top, the rigatoni noodles were thick and large and there seemed to be ample amounts of Italian sausage throughout the dish.
A couple three guys came in before I ordered my baked rigatoni and ordered some food for themselves. The guy seated next to me commented when the waitress brought my pasta to me that it didn't look bad at all. After a few bites, he sort of leaned over and said, "How is it? It looks good."
I said, "It looks better than it really is."
Quite honestly, it wasn't as good as the Wig and Pen's "Wigatoni". Most of the sausage was located on top and it wasn't all that plentiful. The pasta was all right, but the marinara sauce wasn't all that zippy in taste. Overall, it was very far from inedible, but it was more of a pretty bland taste experience. But I guess I couldn't expect that much out of a place where most of the food is geared toward bar patronage. It's definitely not fine dining at Cubby Bear North.
While the Cubby Bear North does a lot of things "OK" at their place, nothing they have on the menu is really what I would call outstanding. But if you're there with a group of friends after work, or stopping in to catch a game, sip a few brews and eat some standard bar food, the Cubby Bear North is a good place to hang out. The sandwiches and burgers are good. The ribs are actually surprisingly above average and the garlic fries I've had in the past are pretty damn good on their own. The Cubby Bear North is about as good a place for the rich suburban North Shore people to "slum" as any around.
(Update - Thanx to Road Tips reader Bill who informed me that the Cubby Bear North is now closed. They closed in early January 2014 with seemingly no explanation why. The original Cubby Bear across from Wrigley Field is still open.)