|The Billy Goat Travelogue|
|Saturday, 29 October 2011 19:26|
The original Billy Goat Tavern was located across the street from the Chicago stadium, now the United Center, and was started in 1934 by Greek immigrant William "Billy Goat" Sianis. When he originally purchased the venue it was called the Lincoln Tavern and he paid the sale price in full with a $205 check that bounced. (He later paid for it in full with sales from the first weekend he owned it). The name of the tavern was changed when a goat fell off a passing truck and wandered inside. William decided to adopt the goat, naming it Murphy, grew a goatee, was given the nickname "Billy Goat," and decided to change the name of the bar from the Lincoln Tavern to the Billy Goat Tavern.
Billy Goat was true master of PR and used his skill to keep his bar packed and constantly in the public eye. In 1944 the Republican Convention was being held in Chicago and with it came numerous media trucks. The trucks blocked the front of his bar and restaraunt and Billy posted huge signs stating "No Republicans Allowed." This of course packed the place with hundreds of Republicans demanding to be served. They still play that little publicity stunt up when they can today. Another "publicity stunt" occured in 1945 at the Chicago Cubs World Series game 4 which is when many say Billy himself cursed the Chicago Cubs to never win another world series, more on that one later though.
In 1964 Billy Goat moved his tavern to its present subterranean location at 430 N. Michigan Ave and slowly began expanding it to its current 9 locations with more on the way. His move to Michigan Ave. put the Billy Goat right in the center of the many Chicago based newspapers and turned it into a regular spot for newspaper employees. Those regulars included Dave Condon, Bill Granger, John Kass, Rick Kogan, Richard Roeper, Rick Telender, Irv Kupcinet, and Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Mike Royko.
Royko was considedered a part of the Sianis family and was renowned for writing about both big events around the world and the events that happened at the Billy Goat as well as Billy and his nephew Sam'sadventures. His writings were both good for the Billy Goat as well as Royko himself who earned the nickname "voice of the little guy" because of his ability to write and relate stories that many of the common people of Chicago themselves had lived through or could relate to. People also knew they could find Royko at the Billy Goat almost daily after work and he would be more than happy to discuss, debate, and defend past and present articles
Tragically on October 22, 1970 William Sianis passed away at the St. Clair Hotel where he had made his home. Royko eulogized Sianis as "Chicago greatest tavern keeper," and noted he had died at 3 am, during the only 5 hours the bar was closed. After William passed away his nephew Sam Sianis too over and he currently owns and operates it with his wife and six kids. .
Today the Tavern is considered a Chicago Tourist Landmark and is visited by hundreds of locals, world travelers, polititicians and actors daily. A small sample of the more notable guests include President George W. Bush, President Clinton, Mayor Daley, Jay Leno, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Billy Zane, Jack Black, Harrison Ford, Neve Campbell, John Cusak, Charleton Heston, Jewel, Steve Austin, and Frank Sinatra to name just a few of them.
On our visit we actually had a hard time finding the Billy Goat because we had no idea it was under ground. After walking up and down Upper Michicgan Ave. we finally saw the sign for the Billy Goat pointing down some stairs and Lower Michigan Ave. Once down the stairs and around the corner we found the Billy Goat Tavern tucked away with its entrance resembling that of a cave. We headed into the front door and were greated by a bustling restaraunt and bar full of locals and tourists all waiting in line to get a world famous Cheezeborger, and no that is not mispelled.
The place has a long bar that takes up most of one side of the restaraunt, red and white checkered tables, and walls filled with pictures of the many celebrities that have stopped in, newspaper articles written by the many regular columnist and reporters, a whole wall dedicated to The Billy Goat himself, and TVs that are constantly showing Chicago sports teams. The place does feel busy and even a little cramped but it also feels like a good ol fashioned family restaraunt. You won't find that sterile feeling common to the many chain establishments on Upper Michigan Ave. This is a place to come and enjoy the food, the characters working the grill and bar, your companions, and take in a little of one of Chicago's best burger joints while enjoying some outstanding food and beer.
The Curse Of The Billy Goat:
William Sianis was a huge Cubs fan going to many of the regular season and series games over the years. But on October 6th 1945 the Cubs were playing the Detroit Tigers in game four of the World Series. The Cubs were up two games to one and before the game started that day William Sianis had walked his goat around the field with a placard reading "We Got Detroit's Goat." Billy had purchased two box seats, one for him and one for his goat, for a total of $7.20 and when he went to take his seats the ushers were not going to initially let them in. After some convincing the ushers relented and Billy and his goat, named Murphey, took their seats where they remained until the 4th inning. Sometime in the 4th inning the ushers returned and requested Billy and his goat leave due to complaints that the goat smelled bad. (During the pre-game walk around the field it had been raining which probably added to the smell of the goat.)
There are many different accounts as to what happened next but all agree that The Billy Goat was not happy. Some say he cursed the franchise at that moment stating that no World Series would ever agian be played at Wrighley and others contend he stated the Cubs would never again appear in the world series. Sianis's family claims the following day he was still upset at the slighting of his beloved goat so he sent a telegram to the Cubs owner Phillip K. Wrigley stating the team would lose this world series and would never win another World Series. Once the series had finish he sent another telegram asking Mr Wrigley "Who stinks now?" However it happened is probably not as important as the fact that the Cubs lost the 1945 World Series and have yet to appear in one for over 65 years.
In 1973 Billy Goat's nephew tried to lift the curse by bringing one of Murphy's descendants, a goat named Socrates, to the stadium. The goat and Sam were escorted to Wrigley field in a white limousine and given a red carpet entrance to the park while the goat wore a sign stating "All is forgiven. Let me lead the Cubs to the pennant." For some reason, miscommunication or some other issue that is still not known today, the goat was denied entrance to the stadium by the ushers once again and the Cubs saw their mid-season 1st place ranking wither away. Sam has since made it into the stadium with a goat several times including in 1984, 1989, 1994, and 1998 with no change to the Cubs drought of World Series appearances or wins, makes you wonder if Murphy or any of his descendants still have not forgiven the Cubs.
SNL Makes The Billy Goat World Famous:
As you may have heard in the video Sam Sianis, much like his uncle Billy Goat, has a very thick Greek accent. During the busy times in the restaraunt William Sianis and his greek immigrant employees would run through taking orders from customers and calling out to each other with thick Greek accents in a dialect that would progress something along these lines: "Who's next!?! WHO'S NEXT!?!" If you took more than a second to order or were looking away the next comment heard would be: "Don't look at the menu, look at ME! I order for you - DOUBLECHEEZ!" If you only feel like a single: "No! DOUBLECHEEZ!!!!" If it's the end of the week: "It's Friday, doublecheez for everybody! It's payday! Triplecheez for the big guy!" Want fries with your order? "No fries - CHEEPS!" Thirsty and try to order a Pepsi? "No Pepsi - COKE!" These rantings were so popular that the Billy Goat himself and one of his Greek immigrant employees by the name of Bill Charuchas would entertain customers by yelling out: "Try the DOUBLECHEEZ! It's the best! No fries, cheeps!"
This was all immortalized in 1978 when Satuday Night Live aired a skit featuring John Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Loraine Newman called Olympia Cafe. John Belushi and Bill Murray knew of the Billy Goat from their Second City days and the writer of the skit, Don Novello, was a regular at The Billy Goat when he was a copwriter in Chicago. We could explain the skit but it would do it no justice. Click here to enjoy the video. To this day Don Novello and Bill Murray still come in to visit Sam and his family and sit down for a CHEEZBORGER.
The food at the Billy Goat is simple, served hot, quick, and consists mainly of their world famous Cheezeborgers, which by themselves are worth coming in for. The beef used in the patties is ground and prepared fresh by the family. You can get single, double, or triple cheese, and there are all the fixing you could possibly want on a Cheezeborger available after picking up your freshly cooked meal. Holding true to their roots the location on Lower Michicgan Ave still does not have Pepsi or fries. (We were told that some of the other locations have started to serve fries due to popular demand.) Either way, the burgers are great, the atmosphere is fantastic, and the trip to grab a bite to eat, watch some Chicago sports, and listen to the interaction of the cooks is well worth the journey.
Here we usually talk about drinks with alcohol, but this time we are going to first talk about a non-alcoholic drink. If you find yourself at the Billy Goat we encourage you to order a Pepsi if you happen to get a greek accented employee. The reply of "No Pepsi...COKE!" is worth its weight in gold.
If your in the mood for a real drink the Billy Goat does have a full service bar, so just about any of your favorites are available. But if your in the mood for a beer we recommend Schlitz. I know what your thinking...."Schlitz? What hell are you thinking?" Well we found out before heading to Chicago that Schlitz has made a huge push to get things back to the way they were. You see back in the day Schlitz was one of the best and most popular beers available across the country. As time passed the brewery changed management and the recipe changed as well. Recently management wanted to get back to the original recipe but they were not able to find any copies of how it was originally made. Not giving up they put an ad in the paper asking drinkers of the original Schlitz to come and help them get the recipe back to its original quality. Years of testing and experimenting with the volunteers and Schlitz brewers has brought Schlitz back to its former glory, and to tell you the truth it really is a pretty decent beer today. So give it a try, it won't be what you are expecting.
Where It Is Located:
As we talked about earlier Billy Goat's is located in a odd location and one that can be a bit difficult to find.
So if you find yourself in Chicago on Upper Michigan Ave. look for this sign which will point you in the direction of Lower Michigan Ave. and home of William Sianis's legendary tavern The Billy Goat.