Cheezborgercheezborgercheezborgercheezborgercheezborger ...
October 20, 2009 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Cheezborger cheezborger cheezborger TM!! (ad infinitum) is one of the sounds you're likely to hear upon descending the stairs down to Lower Michigan Avenue and walking through a big fireman-red door (perhaps for the monthly Chicago meetup?) into the Billy Goat Tavern and Grill, where the bathrooms are confusingly named but not unisex, and where you can get a "cheezborger" or any one of a number of vegetarian-unfriendly menu options.

The Billy Goat's been a Chicago tourist attraction since shortly after 'Rev.' Don Novello (a Goat regular, along with Bill Murray) penned the first 'Olympia Cafe' sketch in 1978 — but a staple of Chicago history for far, far longer. Wonder about the mystical meaning behind Steve Bartman narrowly grabbing the ball before outfielder Moisés Alou could in Game 6, Inning 8 of the 2003 World Series? Wonder about Mike Royko's favorite writing spot, one he immortalized? Read on.

William Sianis emigrated from Paleopyrgos, Greece to the Windy City when 16 years old, and earned money selling stolen trolley car light bulbs and reselling streetcar transfers, avoiding arrest for the latter by hiding the transfers in newspapers. The Great Depression crashes an initial restaurant venture, but Prohibition's repeal in 1933 results in his purchase (with a check that bounced!) of the Lincoln Tavern, near Chicago Stadium (now the site of the United Center), where it would stay until its move in '64 to the present location. A year later, a baby goat bounces off a truck and is adopted by Sianis. The Lincoln Tavern was soon reborn as the Billy Goat Inn. This would begin a pattern of publicity- and profit-generating stunts, such as in 1944, when he posted a sign, "No Republicans Allowed", in the window. He promptly was flooded with profitable traffic from the 1944 Republican National Convention.

In 1945, Sianis approaches the gates of Wrigley Field, where game four of the World Series is about to be played, with his goat Murphy. He asks the ushers to ask Cubs owner Philip Wrigley Jr. if Murphy can accompany him (Murphy being appropriately outfitted in a "We Got Detroit's Goat" blanket) into the Park – a request Wrigley denies by replying, "[T]he goat stays out, because he smells." Although reports differ, it's said Sianis declared to all as he walked away, "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more."

And, unlike the Curse of the Bambino, the Curse of the Goat has remained unbroken, despite multiple attempts from all to lift the curse. In 1950, Wrigley extended to Murphy his sincere apologies. In 1969, a year prior to his death, Bill Sianis formally lifted the Curse ... but the Cubs evidently hadn't learned their lesson; on July 4, 1973, nephew Sam Sianis brought Socrates the Goat to Wrigley, and was refused entrance at every gate. Sam and Socrates were invited back in 1984, 1989, 1994 and 1998, and each appearance garnered brief spells of good luck for the Cubs – but none were enough to lift the curse completely.

Fans have even tried their own various curse-lifting rituals. In 2003, Cubs fans Jim Comiskey, David Townsend and Bill Miller – and Virgil Homer the Goat – were denied entrance to Houston's Minute Maid Park. When refused, they unfurled a scroll and announced the curse reversed. The Cubs had a stellar season, but it's believed by many fans that Steve Bartman's swipe of the ball in the eighth-inning rally was somehow the Curse's fault. In 20071 (GRAPHIC PHOTO) and 2009, butchered goats appeared overnight suspended from the Harry Caray statue in front of Wrigley Field. Neither animal sacrifice garnered any particular luck for the team.

Amongst the crowds visiting the Billy Goat – and both encouraging and documenting the Curse – were its regulars: the newspaper men. Situated between the Wrigley Building and the Sun-Times Building (the latter demolished by Trump), the tavern was perfectly situated to serve the late-drinking newspaper crowd. The affection was mutual: the 2005 'funeral' for Chicago's longstanding City News Bureau was held at the inn.

And it's where legendary columnist Mike Royko (RIP, Mike) felt he had a second home. In fact, Royko, notoriously private and gruff, gave a until-recently-unseen interview in 1982 at the Goat that displayed such a relaxed attitude that it amazed his son.2 (If you've never read him, some of Royko's columns can be read online here and here – as well as his famous Nativity rewrite "Mary and Joe: Chicago-Style" (which was filmed!).)

The Billy Goat continues to thrive. There are even bizarro Billy Goat outposts in the West Loop and near the United Center where it's "no cheeps – fries" — as well as a new D.C. place.

The Billy Goat also is making its way onto the Internet – while the Curse is on MySpace, the Goat is on Facebook.

And not only has it made its way onto the Internet, and to the nation's capitol, it's also opened a branch in the DC Comics Universe. John Constantine takes a thwack at the Curse in "All I Goat for Christmas", one of five stories in Hellblazer #250 (intro page), in which he fights a horned Goat demon in a vividly illustrated Billy Goat.

Proving that even Superman, Batman, and the Phantom Stranger live in a universe where they too can get a cheezborger.


     1With a plaque saying: "As of October 3, 2007: let it be known to the spirit of Sam Sianis and all powers that be, I, Leon "Bull" Bartman, have sacrificed my goat life and thereby have reversed the "curse" and have blessed the cubs with "the Holy Cow"!!!! And in the name of Harry, Santo, Woo, Mr. Cub, "The Girls", Sweet Lou, Hendry, WGN, Mr. Wrigley, Tribune Co., all the Billy Goats of the world, and the best fans in baseball I SAY.....GO CUBS GO.....GO CUBS GO...HEY CHICAGO WHAT DO YOU SAY...THE CUBS ARE GONNA WIN TODAY!"

     2Comment from David Royko: "My father [...] was rarely truly relaxed on camera [...][w]e don't even have that much home video [...] [i]t's a real knockout for me, because it is my father when he was relaxed, had had a couple but it seems not more, was with friends and softball buddies [...] telling a favorite story [...] [m]y father in this wonderful vein was something preserved only in the memories of those of us who'd been around him, and here's a snapshot, out of the blue."
posted by WCityMike (29 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- loup

WOW. I'll never forget the first time I went to the Billy Goat, nor this FPP. Bravo. [off to clicky, click the linkage]
posted by HyperBlue at 8:28 PM on October 20, 2009

Aha! So that's where LOLCats come from!!! I always wondered about that!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:31 PM on October 20, 2009

posted by eamondaly at 8:36 PM on October 20, 2009

I'm not sure the Kogan meet up was "years ago"--was it? could it have been? yes, it was. December 12, 2007. good god! have I drunk that much of my life away in tiny little tiny thimblesful of whiskey?
posted by crush-onastick at 8:52 PM on October 20, 2009

Bravo, sir!
posted by pjern at 8:54 PM on October 20, 2009

(awesome, mike, btw, just awesome)
posted by crush-onastick at 8:54 PM on October 20, 2009

Windy City Mike! You, sir, are a hero! This post is stellar.
posted by janelikes at 8:55 PM on October 20, 2009

For the love of god - let the goats into the game. There's simply no reason to deny it. If you bring a goat to a cubs game there should be stables provided. Come on people, we can beat this one!

Amazing post, btw. Best of the web - and this will probably eat up most of my free reading time tomorrow.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:59 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I stopped by a couple of times during Eddiepallooza in '07. Nice, dirty, smokey venue where you could get cheap eats, drinks and buy a pint of your favorite rotgut to go. I carried Billy Goat matches with me for some time after that.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:01 PM on October 20, 2009

OH MY GOD. You are this close to selling me a ticket to visit pals and old stomping grounds. Excellent work.
posted by mwhybark at 9:12 PM on October 20, 2009

Some frantic Googling has been unable to produce Royko's "Sianis meets Superdrunk," a facsimile of which hangs over the condiment station at the Goat. (The Goat's walls are a giant Royko anthology; the wood panels are nearly papered over with thirty years' worth of bleary eloquence.)

Anyway, one slow evening, a nondescript fellow ducked into the Goat, established himself at a bar stool, and commenced to ordering and drinking whiskey.

He drank for some time.

At last, he rose, paid his tab, and trundled himself back up to Lower Michigan. He had downed 200* shots of whiskey. ("Two hunnert dreenks," as Royko transcribed Sianis's report.)

If this is true (and who may dispute the honor of men like Sianis and Royko?), the Billy Goat was host to one of the most astonishing physiological feats in human history. That's the real reason I opposed our city's late Olympic bid: the Games couldn't hope to live up to the legacy of the Super Drunk; they would wither into tawdry irrelevance in his shadow. What are skinny people running around a track compared to a man who could drink as much alcohol as there's blood in the human body?

*Without the column for reference, I'm not sure of the exact number. It was definitely in the three figures.
posted by Iridic at 9:28 PM on October 20, 2009

Wow. That's maybe the most comprehensive post I've ever seen. Quite impressive.

But though I've only been the Navy Pier outpost the burgers at that establishment weren't much better than high school cafeteria quality. Then again it's Navy Pier so what do you expect?
posted by squeakyfromme at 9:30 PM on October 20, 2009

I was just lamenting to my wife the fact that we could no longer eat at Billy Goat's Tavern, as I've become a vegetarian. She (a sometimes meat-eater who wants to go back next time we're in Chicago) hopefully but absentmindedly told me, "I'm sure you could just have fries." My response was predictable.
posted by The Potate at 9:33 PM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Used to slip over to the Billy Goat for a burger and a beer on my 8pm "lunch" break as a Trib copyboy, and I always make at least one pilgrimage when I'm back in town.

As for the Cubs, they've have been cursed by bad ownership, a historically hapless front office, terrible personnel moves, indifferent players, and fans who demand nothing more than a good time at the park. Remember, the Bartman incident happened in Game 6. No runs scored on the play. The Cubs could also have won Game 7. They are the goats.
posted by stargell at 9:39 PM on October 20, 2009

Oh, steak and egg, I love you so, even if you will be my downfall one day.


More of the Goat's history can be read in A Chicago Tavern: A Goat, A Curse, and the American Dream, by Rick Kogan, who was a great host to a Metafilter meetup at the Goat a few years ago.

Seconding the recommendation of this. Mr. Kogan was a swell dude to talk to and the book's a neat little slice of history.
posted by sparkletone at 9:40 PM on October 20, 2009

They also have a pastry case, though I wouldn't recommend it unless you're at that point of the night when curiosity overwhelms prudence.
posted by Iridic at 9:48 PM on October 20, 2009

Yeah, this sure is a great post. HAMBORGER

no, really, this kicks ass, thanks
posted by hifiparasol at 11:47 PM on October 20, 2009

The Bartman game was Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Cubs haven't managed to win a pennant since 1945.

Otherwise, good post.

posted by prosthezis at 1:00 AM on October 21, 2009

the bathrooms are confusingly named but not unisex

Any bathroom that's too confusingly named for me to figure out in the .25 seconds before I piss myself is, in fact, unisex.

Even if it's not an emergency, if I can't figure it out in about five or ten seconds of pondering, I'm just going to use whichever one I open first.

Anybody who has a problem with this, or even thinks it's a little bit transgressive, may feel free to walk ahead of me with a Sharpie and label all my pissoirs.
posted by Netzapper at 2:33 AM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

This... is a masterful post. Well-played, sir.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:36 AM on October 21, 2009

Many years ago I got lost in Chicago and ended up in neighborhood where all the store signs were in Greek (somewhere off I94 is all I can remember). No question about the first thing that came to my mind.
posted by tommasz at 6:26 AM on October 21, 2009

I, for one, love the Goat's tiny little beers. As a light-weight, I can drink a few and remain standing, letting me pretend I am a hard-drinking badass that doesn't throw UP if she drinks too much. Windigo throws DOWN!

Thank you, Billy Goat Tavern!
posted by Windigo at 7:02 AM on October 21, 2009

the bathrooms are confusingly named but not unisex

Ok, I'll bite - what are the bathrooms named?
posted by arcticwoman at 7:18 AM on October 21, 2009

my brain just exploded.
posted by shmegegge at 8:47 AM on October 21, 2009

Fuck yeah.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:24 AM on October 21, 2009

i seem to recall that a couple of years ago, the cubs had a greek orthodox priest come ad bless the stadium. it was not a news event, and was only reported because a sharp eyed reported saw him blessing dugout.
posted by lester at 9:56 AM on October 21, 2009

Love this! I used to eat lunch here quite a bit when I worked at the Tribune, and it's been the site of quite a few MeFi/MeCha meetups I've attended.
posted by SisterHavana at 4:42 PM on October 21, 2009

The Chicago Cabal Approves


Nice, nice post.
posted by eriko at 3:59 AM on October 22, 2009

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