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Parts and Labor: An Off-Kilter (In a Good Way) Sports Bar

Friday, September 19, 2014 Rob Samuelson

Parts and Labor (2700 N. Milwaukee Ave.) in Logan Square is testing out showing football games throughout September, where you can catch the Bears and any number of other teams with a different ambiance than most sports bars. Halfstacker Rob Samuelson checked out last Sunday's game against the 49ers. Here's his report. Feel free to check out this Sunday's game against the New York Jets at 7:30.

With the windows wide open, Parts and Labor is a bit brisk for an early September day. The floor reminds me of a stroll through Home Depot, all pragmatic gray and rugged. The booths are painted with black and blue Tetris shapes, giant air ducts hang visibly from the ceiling, and behind the bar is what looks like a shrine to Chutes and Ladders – or maybe a morbid ode to those whose lives have been cut short in elevated painting accidents.

My friends have quizzical looks on their faces as we sit on chipped, practical-looking stools in the middle of the establishment. They don't verbalize it, but, “Are you sure we're here to watch the Bears game?” is written in their eyes. Then the menus come.

“Ah, yes, okay, that makes sense,” is now what their expressions say.

Burgers and fried everything abound. And it's cheap. Like, $5 cheap. So inexpensive, in fact, that my friend Tom gets a second burger after he finishes his first, and that was after I watched him eat nachos earlier in the afternoon. The training for that half marathon he ran a couple weeks ago has raised his appetite and metabolism to disturbing heights.

I go a little more gastronomically conservative and order myself a black bean burger and fried pickles. The pickles' crust is golden brown, but they're more goopy and soggy than I expected. This is in no way a bad thing. They taste like pickles should, but more. The juice hasn't been fried out of the equation, thankfully. I'm not a food connoisseur, so I apologize for not being able to explain it right. They were delicious and Parts and Labor puts a convenient bowl of Ranch dressing in the middle to serve as even more taste enhancement.

We got here early because we were hungry and the Bears didn't take the field against the San Francisco 49ers (but really, as we learned during the broadcast, the 49ers now play an hour or so outside of the Rice-a-Roni city, so they should rescind their title) until 7:30. The Green Bay Packers are instead on the giant projected screen. This gives me some observation time.

And the things I observe are out of the ordinary for a bar showing sporting events. They have massive outdoor spaces, far away from the bar's televisions. Stax and Chess Records soul plays on the stereo. Instead of framing signed pictures of former local athletic heroes, Parts and Labor has glossy, coffee-table-book-sytle photographs of machinery. Some look like water pumps, others like parts of the electrical grid. It's a nod to the industrial revolution and blue collar work, the kind done by people who watch these games at bars.

But, this being Logan Square, it's not just blue collar types hanging out. There's one young woman with purple hair and a vest with a cute kitten screen printed on it. I can't tell from afar what kind of beer she's drinking, but it's definitely not a beer with enough capital to sponsor the NFL. I give thanks to the alcohol gods that this is the case and order a Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' to enjoy with my burger and pickles.

Eventually, with the game about to get going, I return to my buddies and put my notebook away. The channel changes to NBC and their Sunday Night Football program, the league's big game of the week showcase. We can see Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth going through their pregame banter. But we can't hear them. Instead, they play the Violent Femmes' “Add It Up,” which has noticeable bad words instead of the easily brushed off addiction metaphors in the football-crowd-approved “Blister in the Sun.” I'm not complaining, because Collinsworth has infuriatingly built a broadcasting career out of doing nothing but calling professional athletes “athletic.” But since we came here to watch the game, I ask if we can turn the TV volume up.

This causes a look of pure “uh-oh” on the waitress's face. She heads to the bar to confer with other employees and the general consensus is a shrug. Looks like we're stuck with our good beers, good food, good company, good music, and
not being subjected to inane Michaels-Collinsworth chatter. This is no tragedy. It leads to a little confusion as to who did things on the field – as someone who's pretty much only a baseball and hockey fan, I can name probably four Bears players – but I'll gladly take the tradeoff. Sure, I'm left asking if players who retired nearly a decade ago still play for the team, but oh well.

The game is a drag for most of its runtime. The 49ers build a sizable lead and our attentions wane. Explaining why The Velvet Underground's “Rock and Roll” is great becomes more important than debating whether Bears quarterback Jay Cutler can earn his newly minted contract.

But then the fourth quarter rolls around and things get fun on the screen. Cutler starts picking apart the 49ers, touchdowns are scored, then the Bears take the lead precious seconds ticking down. My friends and I are shocked. How 'bout that? The clock expires and the Bears have officially come back from 17-0 and 20-7 deficits to win 28-20.

Not half bad all around.

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