The owner of one of Chicago’s oldest gay bars, Jeffery Pub, is trying something new: a sports bar that caters to the city’s LGBTQ and black communities. Jamal Junior hopes to open Williams Inn Pizzeria and Sports Bar in the Motor Row District, near McCormick Place, in late March or early April.
Jeffery Pub has served the LGBTQ community since the mid-’60s, making it one of the oldest gay bars in America. A family affair, the South Shore bar was passed down to Junior by his grandmother, Lula Williams, who started bringing him around the business when he was 8 years old. Over the years, she taught him how to be a restaurant operator, and he assumed full control of Jeffery Pub following her death. Today, as the only black-owned gay bar in the city, Jeffery Pub remains a pillar of Chicago’s queer nightlife, one that notably stands outside of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Boystown.
While Jeffery Pub is known for its vibrant atmosphere, Williams Inn — named for Junior’s grandmother — will be more in the vein of a traditional sports bar, with plenty of TVs for fans to catch games and root for their favorite teams. Chicago has no shortage of sports bars, but it’s unique in that it is intended primarily for the city’s black and LGBTQ communities. “There are tons in the community who love to watch sports,” Junior said.
This will be the third iteration of Williams Inn Pizza. The original location closed following a fire in 2010; the second, which focused on takeout and delivery, closed in 2018 largely because delivery platforms like Grubhub and DoorDash provided lackluster service to the city’s south and west sides, according to Junior. He and COO Teaunto Stephens saw an opportunity to bring back Williams Inn near McCormick Place, where a booming convention business, plus sporting events at the Wintrust Arena draw steady crowds. But the area still lacks the feeling of a warm Chicago neighborhood — meaning locals need a place to watch the WNBA’s Chicago Sky and DePaul Blue Demons basketball teams.
In addition to the deep-dish pizza that Williams Inn was known for, the menu will focus on sports bar staples like Italian beef sandwiches, while including more refined fare like pastas and salads. On the drinks side, there will be 24 beers on tap, a wide selection of bourbons, cognacs, and vodkas, as well as signature cocktails.
The modern sports bar first took off in the 1980s in Chicago. One of the biggest examples is when Ultimate Sports Bar & Grill debuted in Lincoln Park. At the time, Chicagoans were perplexed by the need for a tavern to be completely filled with TVs. But the concept quickly spread — it turns out that sports fans love to gather for beer and pub food while hanging out with other fans. In 2004, the landmark LGBTQ-friendly sports bar Crew Bar + Grill opened in Uptown, only to close its doors in 2017. (Efforts by the founders to open a new “diverse sports tavern,” called Cochran’s are currently stalled.)
Williams Inn will be one of the few new bars in the city with black ownership, which is even more uncommon amongst sports bars. For example, on the Chicago Bulls’s list of official bars, for instance, just one in the city has a black owner — Municipal Bar + Dining Co. in River North, which is owned by Chicago native and Super Bowl champion Simeon Rice.
Junior and Stephens feel that Williams Inn can bridge the gap between communities, with big plans for Pride in June. “We just want to have a safe, comfortable space for everyone have a heck of a good time,” Stephens said.
Williams Inn Pizzeria and Sports Bar, 2210 S. Michigan Avenue, planned for a late March or early April opening.
This story has been updated for clarity.