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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

With Indoor Drinking Banned, Bucktown’s Corner Bar Turns Into Neighborhood Bodega

The Bucktown dive bar with Prohibition roots needs neighbors' help if it's going to survive this winter.

Corner Bar in Bucktown pivoted its business model to become a bodega.
Leslie LaSota / Provided
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BUCKTOWN — Neighbors who want a beloved Bucktown dive bar to survive the winter can help by buying a cup of coffee or a bottle of wine.

After a citywide ban on indoor drinking, The Corner Bar pivoted last week, becoming a one-stop neighborhood shop for booze, coffee and snacks. Located at 2224 N. Leavitt St., the bar’s “bodega” will sell hot Dark Matter coffee, cold brew, beer, wine, liquor, snacks and cigarettes.

Without help from customers, dive bars like The Corner Bar will struggle to survive the winter, longtime manager Leslie LaSota said.

“This is home. We call it the ‘living room of Bucktown.’ It’s been around so long, people say it’s like the TV show ‘Cheers,'” she said. “We’re so lucky for the people who walk through that door. People in their 70s, newly 21-year-olds … . They come in here and they just get along.”

Credit: Leslie LaSota / Provided
A patron purchases Dark Matter Coffee from The Corner Bar’s Bucktown bodega.

After closing in March because of coronavirus, Corner Bar — which does not have a license to serve food — reopened with limited capacity for indoor drinking Oct. 3.

The bar was only open for about three weeks before Gov. JB Pritzker banned indoor dining and drinking amid a second wave of coronavirus in Chicago.

“We weren’t even open three or four weeks since March … meanwhile, Comcast still wants their money,” LaSota said. “The government is in no hurry to provide relief to businesses or to employees. Meanwhile, my rent is still due, the bar’s rent is still due.”  

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While Corner Bar has only gone by that name for about 15 years, the Bucktown corner has been home to a bar in some fashion since Prohibition, LaSota said. Back then, it was a speakeasy posing as an ice cream parlor.

“There’s so much history here,” she said. “We have the original coolers, and they work … . We have one guy who knows how to fix them … . Prices [are still] written in pencil inside the coolers.”

Corner Bar is unique among Chicago dives for having two women at the helm, LaSota said. Current owner Perry Angthius bought the bar in 2018.

For the past 13 years, LaSota said she’s strived to make Corner Bar feel like a safe place for women in the neighborhood, often offering to walk women home while someone else covers the bar.

“To have us leading the charge like this in a male-dominated industry … I’ve definitely developed thick skin in the last 13 years,” she said. “I’ve met so many incredible people. We get to know the neighbors, too. There’s something to be said for that, in a big city like this. … It’s like a little community center.”

Corner Bar isn’t the only bar in the area to pivot to a bodega-style business model. Earlier this year, Wicker Park’s Debonair Social Club, 1575 N. Milwaukee Ave., transformed into a grab-and-go market.

Corner Bar’s bodega hours are 9-11 a.m. and 5-7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Follow the bar on Facebook for updates. Place an order for pickup by calling 773-697-9934.

The bar transitioned to using a credit card system and the bodega is dog-friendly, LaSota said. Fresh coffee will be brewed using equipment donated by Dark Matter Coffee.

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