Nick's on Halsted and Armitage was a breakthrough saloon in 1977. While Disco lounges proliferated in the suburbs and on the urban fringes, and faux cowboy barns lured in the Urbane Cowboys ( why is it that only lawyers seem to wear the goofball cowboy hats while wearing Hickey-Freeman suits and Johnson-Murphy tasseled loafers?), Nick Novich - English Teacher, Football Coach, Serbian-American Jazz Cat - established what would become the 'spot' for the hep and those who have the good sense to listen to the hep.
Nick was my mentor as a baby teacher at Bishop McNamara High School in Kankakee, Illinois. Nick established the football program that Rich Zinanni would drive to five State Football Championships, following Novich's foray into Liquid Refreshment and Alternative Conversation Entertainment.
Nick Novich is one of those people that God blesses all of us with by putting his/her talent, soul, intesity, courage, confiction,humor and loyalty into our paths at times in our lives. I have been blessed to meet many such talented people - Max Weissmann, Terry Sullivan, Mike Joyce, Boz O'Brien, Bernard Callahan, Carlos Nelson, Mike Holmes, Marquis Ball, Thomas Hayes, Lonny Newman, Tom Kotel, Billy Higgins, Marty Tully, Jack Higgins, Rose Keefe, Richard Lindberg, Steve Rhodes, Jim Frogge, Paul Tutt, Willie Winters, and Terry McEldowney to name just a few. Nick Novich could command this regiment of talented people - singers, writers, coaches, artists, boxers, pipe-fitters and saints.
The original Nick's Place had been a bust-out joint of the filthy Old Style sign variety, where gents in full need of an alcoholic topping off could be assured of Sunnybrook and ten ounce domestic beer. Physics teacher and football coach Jim Frogge and I took a trip up to the DePaul area one Saturday and helped Nick toss some of the old fittings and were rewarded with cold Ale at Glascott's Grogery.
It was here that Nick laid out his strategies for alternative entertainment - "Music - the jukebox can not be dominated by what WLS tells people to listen to - I am the Captain of my bar and we will listen to Dr. Horse, Etta James, Sun Ra, Stanley Turentine, Blossom Deary, Curtis Mayfield and the Impression, anything that Jerry Butler sings, piano concerti by Glenn Gould, . . ."
I asked, "Any Planxty, or the Dubliners?" Nick, looked at me with hopeful tolerance, " In time, my Son, you will grow into the man I hope you can become. Eat your vegetables and read your Yeats."
Nick's was not a 'Fern-Bar' it was a clean, well-lighted place where actors, artists, politicians like the great and visionary Danny O'Brien who would die in a Michigan accident, and school teachers with nickels and dimes could congregate, converse, consume Imported Beer on tap, as well as hand-crafted Wisconsin ambrosia's like Point and the absolutely heavenly Eau Clair All Malt - from the Chicago Keeley's Half & Half recipe.
Nick commanded a welcoming house of Hep. Bigots, loud-mouths, louts, skanks, pests and sharks were solidly shown the door.
Ten Years ago Nick moved to his current Milwaukee Ave. location and has opened a wonderful place in Uptown.
This past December, Nick hosted a gathering of writers Richard Lindberg, Rose Keefe and others for a talk about Chicago Crime figures and Nick was thick in the soupy mix of facts and legends concerning Big Mike McDonald, Bathhouse John Coughlin and the legendary Paddy Bauler. Nick knows the 42nd and 43rd Ward histories. Nick lives literature and history.
Last night, Nick and I caught up on the phone to discuss the sorry state of American Education, how bullies flourish in an institutional setting like Notre Dame, and the power of music to sensitize and spark the best in the human species. "Have your boy lie on his back with eyes closed and listen to Coltrain, or Miles Davis and he will emerge a different person."
Nick could lead people to a great watering hole but getting a horse of a former St. Rita football player who has subsisted on a diet of LaLaPalooza?'
Go to Nicks! Go to Flat-Iron! Go to Nick's in Uptown! Get better.
Contact - Nick!
Nick's Beer Garden
1516 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622 773-252-1155 http://www.nicksbeergarden