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38-Year Shinnick's Pub Bartender on Preserving Chicago's Neighborhood Tavern Culture

Celine Shinnick has stories for days about the generations-old Bridgeport community bar.

All Photos by Marc Much
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Celine Shinnick has spent 38 years tending at Shinnick's Pub, the tavern her grandparents took over in 1938. Four generations have worked there, as Shinnick and her eight siblings grew up just down the street from the Bridgeport (3758 S. Union) dive: "My dad always made a joke that he gave birth to nine bartenders," Celine mused. Celine, 57, and her siblings would start on the clean-up shift, and when her father, George Shinnick Jr., felt confident enough, he'd give his children a bartending shift. In Celine's case, she took Wednesday nights. She and her siblings inherited the bar from her father in 1989. Celine spoke about growing up in the industry, how her crowds have changed and the future of dive bars.

Do dive bars have a future?

There have been a lot of bars shut down in the last 10 years. I think they're going down one after the other. It's just changed, with the licensing—insurance is a killer. But I also look at bars as a gathering place. There are times you would come and you wouldn't drink. It's a generation thing. After the 40s, after the war, it was booming. You had men who just came out of war, they would stop in. Our Friday crowds? We were mobbed. That whole generation is gone. People don't go out like that.

How has drinking culture changed through the years?

We had an afternoon crowd with regulars. Mr. Fitz (a firefighter) would come in at 2 o'clock, stay until 4:15 and then go home and have dinner with his wife. And then he'd be here from about 7:30 to about 10:30, and then he'd go home. That was his routine, and if you threw him off—if there was a change in his schedule—he'd be nuts. There was that one time we were closed for two weeks for construction. His wife called me on the phone. She asked me, "Celine, please tell me when you're going to be open, I can't handle him around the house anymore." I told her, "we're not open but you can send him right over." And he he came right on over.

Where there any drinks that were ever a big flop?

It was Frank Thomas' beer (Big Hurt Beer). A couple of years ago, they brought it in, it was right on White Sox Opening Day. I sold a few, and one guy told me, "I paid for this, but I don't really care for it, just take it and dump it out." One day I took a couple of cans out and poured it and asked customers to try it. I was trying to give it away. But it's still out there. Somewhere. Hopefully they've made a couple tweaks to it.

Shinnick's Pub 1

How has the atmosphere changed in here over the years with flatscreen TVs and and internet jukeboxes?

Back then when we had 45s, we were really limited to how much music was on our jukebox. We were in our 20s, and we probably knew Frank Sinatra—we sang all those songs. Jesus, we sang Al Jolson songs on the jukebox. Everybody knew the words to them. My dad thought there were like two songs on the jukebox. "Sexual Healing" by Marvin Gaye? He wanted that song off of there. Very old school.

What are the difference between your old-school customers and new ones?

I'd be tending bar and if one of the young kids cursed, customers like Mr. Fitz, he'd turn right around and yell at them: "Don't talk like that." But then the kids would apologize. My dad would throw somebody out if there were women in here and somebody was cursing. You didn't talk like that. Unless there were no women in the bar. Then I guess it was all right.

How were women treated differently at the bar?

(Laughs) Well we just found this out, but my aunt told me this. She asked "did you ever find the sign that said ‘door for women?'" I go: "what are you talking about?" Back then, in the 40s, if you came to the bar with your husband, he could walk in through the front door, she had to come through the side door. I go to my aunt: ‘You got to be kidding me!' Even grandma (who co-owned the pub) had to come in through the side door.

What's the most crowded the bar has ever been?

The World Series (in 2005 when the White Sox won) was absolutely awesome. It was so much fun. It's so hard to explain, the neighborhood was absolutely electric. Because I get really nervous, I had to stand outside of the bar and I watched all the games through the window. I couldn't deal with the stress, I had to stay outside. After they won everyone started doing Jagerbombs.

Carol Shinnick 2

What are some of the drinking trends you've seen growing up?

It just switches up so fast. Jager doesn't really move much anymore. Back when I was younger it was usually shots of peppermint schnapps. Jameson shots have stood the test of time. Even now though, 90 percent of our sales are beer.

How important is your bar to the community?

When we were kids growing up, one thing my dad would always tell us, if something's wrong, go in the bar. Don't try to run home because there's always going to be men in here. So I told my son that, go to the tavern if something's wrong. It sounds crazy, you're telling your kid to go into a bar, but if (adults are) sitting here and a little boy comes in and says someone's chasing me? You're going outside. It would diffuse or help.

What kind of advice can you offer to bartenders?

Sometimes you have to shake something off. Just let it go. You're always going to have someone who will get under your skin on the other side of the bar. A smartass. There's always someone who thinks they're funny and they're really not.

What's a telltale sign that a customer could be unruly?

Usually when someone comes in really loud. And especially if they're by themselves, a person cutting into other people's conversations.

What are some tips for bar customers?

Don't be the person screaming over a bar. You know, I see you, I'll get to you in a minute. And then they start doing that thing—shaking their money at you. It's just so ignorant. We were taught to put our empties on the ledge (on the inside of the bar). We know it's empty, and we'll be back. If you're done for the night, put your drink in the ledge with the coaster on top of the drink. That way I won't wait on you again.

—Ashok Selvam

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