Nothing beats Christmas time in Chicago. It feels as though the city has been decking the “halls” since our incorporation in 1837 and it seems as if all the Christmas lights along Michigan Ave. have been around since the invention of the light bulb. Not sure if that’s true, but I do know that, in 1913, the city erected its first civic Christmas tree. Gazing at the winter wonderland outside my window instantly transports me back to being a kid. Winter in the city was a magical time – sledding on the big hill at Oz Park (well, I thought it was big), strolling along State St., that Great Street, to marvel at the awe-inspiring Christmas windows at good ol’ Marshall Field & Company, and sitting in the audience at the Goodman’s production of A Christmas Carol. These made up my Christmas. I still go back to that hill and I just attended that play, but I am genuinely hurt that Marshall Field’s is a thing of the past. Sigh. But as I’ve grown older, I have come to observe and appreciate something new: Christmas in taverns. Taverns are social spaces that have the power to evoke a range of emotions and Christmas is a time for just that. Combine that with specialty drinks and kick-ass decor, and you have a winning locale for some damn good Christmas cheer.
A classic saloon that screams Christmas in Chicago is Miller’s Pub. Miller’s Pub was once, and not surprisingly, a jewelery store in 1911. Wabash Ave. is, after all, known as Jeweler’s Row thanks to all of the jewelers that set up shop during the early 1900s. In 1917 a restaurant went in and in 1933 George Lander opened Lander’s, a cocktail lounge meets soda fountain shop. In 1935, Miller’s Pub was opened by the Miller family. When the Gallios brothers, four brothers of Greek descent, purchased the bar in 1950, they didn’t have enough cash to change the name on the door, so it remained Miller’s Pub.
Working non-stop to make sure the restaurant served good food, the tavern quickly became a favorite for people working and shopping downtown. Steaks, chops, and BBQ reeled the folks in. Celebrities popped in often and helped confirm that a neighborhood type bar could certainly exist in bustling downtown. Baseball legends Harry Caray and Bill Veeck (Bill still has a corner in the bar) would often be seen chit-chatting the night away. The dark woods, antique light fixtures, stained glass, vintage oil paintings, and green and red leather booths give the place charm.
The location makes it the perfect spot to seek refuge from the shopping insanity along State or Wabash. And the best part is that you can still keep that Christmas spirit alive straight from your bar stool. At Christmas time, the Gallios family decorates the tavern in a classy way that meshes well with their classy establishment. And while many bars and clubs will offer you some fru fru Christmastini, Miller’s Pub provides you with good ol’ fashioned cocktails, specifically the Tom & Jerry. The TJ has nothing to do with that crazy cat or goofy mouse, but everything to do with cold and Christmas. A tasty brandy-rum-egg concoction that’s been around since the 1800s, the Tom & Jerry will be sure to warm you up just where you need it.
Miller’s Pub and Christmas in Chicago. It truly is A Wonderful Life.