The owner of Simon’s Tavern made his first batch of glogg in 1994, creating a fond holiday tradition in Andersonville that packed the dive bar annually during Decembers, warming customers who wander in from the season’s ice and wind. With health experts warning that dive bars are risky places to hang out during a pandemic, Simon’s was forced to adjust. That included taking advantage of finally being able to legally sell to-go cocktails. Customers can pick up a bottle of glogg (plus ginger cookies) and bring them home.
Simon’s owner Scott Martin is guarded about his recipe: “Every good Swede doesn’t tell their glogg secret,” he says.
Glogg is mulled wine served warm and the spiced liquor has many forms including wassail and gluhwein. It’s popular in Nordic countries and Andersonville, home of Simon’s, is known for its Swedish community. Martin reveals fresh orange, cardamom seeds, roasted almonds, and yellow raisins (they’re sweeter than black raisins) are keys to his formula. He starts making the mulled wine for the holiday season in September and goes through 1,500 gallons each year.
Martin, who also owns Svea, a nearby restaurant in Andersonville, says he only has two employees left on the tavern’s payroll. The bar has a modest patio, but “when it’s 22 degrees and 34 degrees, no one is sitting outside and drinking.” Simon’s was allowed to serve customers indoors before the state’s indoor ban went into effect on October 30. Martin says he’s maintained a restaurant license for the bar which allowed Simon’s to continue indoor service; restaurants were allowed to serve customers inside at a 20-percent maximum capacity. Staff would sell frozen pizzas to customers to fufill the city’s food mandate. They would come blazing hot out of a toaster oven, ready to burn the roof of a customer’s mouth.
Before taking a sip of glogg, it’s imperative for customers to take a ginger cookie and place it in a hand, to make a wish, and to gently tap the cookie with either the index finger or thumb. If the cookie breaks into three pieces, legend has it that the wish will come true. Simon’s sells Anna’s ginger cookies by the box so customers can complete the experience at home. Martin also recommends Lars if customers want to try something different.
Glogg at Simon’s comes bundled with lore. Martin mentions how he was sitting at the bar on a Sunday morning about 20 years ago when ATF agents arrived to raid and check on his glogg-making operation. He denies any wrongdoing, but did mention a rival glogg maker at a nearby bar.
Martin is also thankful for the legalization of to-go cocktails. He’s a bit worried that the government will “come down on you like Thor’s hammer” if Chicago’s bar owners don’t follow every regulation perfectly during the pandemic. They’re doing their best at the tavern to keep safe. They’re even decorated the bar with Christmas cheer. Martin says he’s doing a lot of this for his 27-year-old son, Thomas, who will soon arrive home from his Army deployment in the Middle East. He wants to properly welcome him home.
The tavern turned 90 years old this year. Martin isn’t the original owner, but the family of namesake Simon Lundberg remains involved. Wayne Lundberg, one of Simon’s sons, is Martin’s landlord. December is typically Simon’s busiest month, but with COVID-19 affecting business, Lundberg has generously offered Martin free rent for January and February. Martin hopes other landlords sees Lundberg’s understanding to strike their own agreements with other restaurant and bar owners in need.
Though 2020 has been a challenge, Martin says he’s confident that Simon’s will survive. He points to April as when they’ll host a grand reopening to help Chicago celebrate. And for Simon’s, glogg will play a vital role in its survival.
“It’s probably the longest commitment I have had in my life,” Martin says of his love affair with glogg. “And it’s the one thing that’s keeping the bar alive.”
This year, Glogg at Simon’s is available in 32-ounce ($25), 64-ounce ($50), and 99-ounce ($75) sizes. It’s cash only for Simon’s — a friendly dive with a great jukebox and the occasional band.