At long last, there’s an opening date for Carol’s Pub, the 45-year-old dive known for live country music, late nights, and a no-nonsense attitude. Closed since September 2016, the bar’s new ownership is targeting December 20 as the day when Carol’s customers can welcome their old friend at 4659 N. Clark Street. There’s a handful of changes, most notably that Carol’s will now serve food.
New ownership doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel, it just wants to keep the good times going. There are now two flatscreen TVs and a digital jukebox inside. But even former owner Carol Harris had a Touch Tunes machine.
Stepping inside the new Carol’s is like a TV viewer going from standard definition to HDTV. That’s not just because no one is allowed to smoke in Chicago bars anymore. Everything’s been either restored or replaced with a newer version of the worn-out item. The yellowed sign has been replaced with the new sign with the same design, only with the original white background. Ed Warm, a well-connected country music promoter behind Joe’s on Weed Street and Bub City, said that about half the vintage glass beer light fixtures that hang from the ceiling are from the old bar. They replaced the rest and even found some unused in storage.
Warm faces cynicism from some of Carol’s loyal customers who fear new ownership would bring Lincoln Park and River North to Uptown. Carol’s has a niche charm as one of the few honky tonk bars in Chicago as customers danced in front of a live band past 3 a.m. Warm has deep appreciation for country music and felt obligated to save the bar.
“We’re making sure that this will be a place people can enjoy for the next 20 years,” he said. “If we didn’t invest in it, fix it up with a great sound system, nice clean bathrooms, it wouldn’t be here. They would have sold the building and it would have been condos.”
When it reopens, they’ll serve burgers, hand-cut fries, and fried bologna sandwiches — the latter is a tribute to Robert’s Western World in Nashville. Though the walls touted “hot sandwiches,” the kitchen wasn’t used for years.
“I wouldn’t eat anything from there,” Warm said. “It was like a biohazard.”
Drinkers will still find that selection of “lawnmower beers” in cans and bottles including PBR and Busch Light. For the first time, Carol’s will have draft options. They’ll pour local beer from Half Acre, Begyle, and even Old Style.
While other bands played at Carol’s, the bar was most noted for performances by Diamondback, the country band fronted by Reva Goodman. The band will return to play a few times a month, Warm said. Warm, who annually books the bands which play the Windy City Smokeout, said they’ll showcase new and old bands mixed in with nationally touring acts. Being close to the Aragon Ballroom and Riviera Theater provides room for synergy. Carol’s could now host a “secret” and intimate late-night performance after a show at one of those larger venues.
They still have the 4 a.m. liquor license, and the bar will also be open weekend afternoons when they’ll host an acoustic performances. They’ve also rehired bartender Candice Johnson. She also painted a colorful mural for the bar.
Besides the state of the kitchen, the bathrooms weren’t exactly attractive, Warm said. They’ve renovated the toilets: “You can still have a honky tonk or dive bar and have clean restrooms,” he said.
The Double Door recently announced it would reopen in Uptown, and the area is changing with new construction. It’s very different from when the Rainbo Roller Rink stood up the street. Bands have already started to promote their gigs at Carol’s, and Warm welcomes the excitement. This is a passion project for him, as he wanted to keep the honky tonk spirit alive in Chicago.
“Taverns are a very important part of Chicago’s heritage,” Warm said. “They help change neighborhoods for the better and we hope to be a very small part of Uptown’s rejuvenation that’s happening the next couple of years.”
Keep an eye out for more coverage next week.