The owners of Chicago’s oldest LGBTQ bar, Jeffery Pub, are trying something new. They’re opening a sports bar that will serve food like Italian beef sandwiches and deep-dish pizza. They hope to open Williams Inn Pizzeria and Sports Bar in late March or early April at 2210 S. Michigan Avenue in the Motor Row District near McCormick Place.
This is a gut rehab for owner Jamal Junior. At 55 years old, Jeffery Pub is one of the oldest LGBTQ bars in America. It opened in 1965 on the South Shore. It’s a reminder for Chicagoans that LGBTQ communities exists outside Boystown. Junior learned the business side from his late grandmother, Lula Williams. He’s is honored in keeping family history and recipes alive.
Ownership is working out licensing, but hopes to have some occasional live music. Don’t expect a nightclub feel like Jeffery Pub. Chicago has plenty of sports bars, but none that cater specifically to members of both the African-American and LGBTQ communities.
“And there are tons in the community who love to watch sports,” Junior said.
Junior remembers his grandmother waking him up and bringing her to the bar. She taught him how to write checks and how banks work. She also helped build the community at Jeffery Pub, which maybe the city’s only LGBTQ bar owned by African Americans.
“Because Jamal’s grandmother had the vision, we were able to open this business,” said Williams’s Pub COO Teaunto Stephens.
Williams Inn is the follow-up to the old to-go pizza spot on 87th Street in Auburn Gresham. It closed in October 2018. Junior said one of that third-party delivery services (Grubhub, DoorDash) need to do a better job serving the city’s south and west sides; there weren’t enough drivers to deliver their pies and that affected the business. The original Williams Inn was at 57th Street and Ashland Avenue. A 2010 fire burned the place down and they never rebuilt.
But as McCormick Place’s convention business continues to boom and the Wintrust Arena begins to draw events, Junior and Stephens began plans to bring the Williams Inn name back. They’ll have plenty of TVs for sports fans. They want a place to watch the WNBA’s Chicago Sky and DePaul Blue Demons college basketball teams. The bar isn’t too far way from Solider Field, so teams like the Chicago Fire and Chicago Bears could find a following.
The bar will have 24 beers on tap, a good selection of bourbons, cognacs, and vodkas, and signature drinks. The menu won’t go overboard with the fancy items, but ownership wants to satisfy sports fans who expect more than canned beer and free popcorn. Williams Inn was known for its deep-dish pizzas. It’ll have pastas, salads, and more.
Uptown had a LGBTQ-friendly sports bar in Crew until its closed in 2017. The city has quite a history with the genre. Chicago’s first sports bar opened in the ‘80s in when Ultimate Sports Bar & Grill debuted in Lincoln Park. At the time, Chicagoans were perplexed by the need for a tavern to fill its space with TVs to satisfy rabid fans. The models weren’t even the current slim flatscreens, instead using the bulky tubes types. But the concept of the sports bar took off as fans gathered for pub food and beer while hanging out with supporters of the same team. Even TV network opened a branch of its gargantuan ESPN Zone in River North.
The city hasn’t seen many Black-owned bars. That seems an issue across the country, with the New York Times chronicling the scene in New Orleans. Chicago’s segregation complicates the matter. Junior pointed out that Black-owned bars do exist, but the general public isn’t aware of places like Red’s, the New Dating Game, and Reese’s Lounge.
There are even fewer sports bars owned by African Americans. Sports teams often compile an official bar list that allows owners to send in money and get decorations to dress up their space for fans. The teams then tout those bars during game broadcasts or on social media. The Chicago Bulls have such a list, and the bars are in Chicago and the suburbs. There are nine bars listed in the city, and only one — Municipal Bar + Dining Co. in River North — has an African-American owner. Chicago native Simeon Rice played football at the University of Illinois and earned at Super Bowl ring in the NFL.
The city is stingy with its liquor license. But there are systemic issues too, such a lack of education and resources among marginalized communities. Junior is thankful for his grandmother’s mentorship, but not everyone is so lucky.
Representation is complicated issue for Junior and Stephens. They’re trying to focus on making Williams Inn inclusive, and also hope to give South Side residents another space to hang out 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.