Inside: Hungry Brain

Janis and I first met just a few weeks before she and Luz opened Hungry Brain in 1997, and our friendship was likely strengthened by the many nights during the early months when I was her only customer. But within a couple of years, the bar had been discovered by actors, comedians, poets, hipsters and neighborhood folks of all stripes. I’ve never lived in Roscoe Village, but the Brain became my neighborhood bar nonetheless, and you’d often find me there smoking cigs, scrawling in my journal and talking with one of the interesting people with whom I had nothing more in common than affection for Hungry Brain. Over the years, I stopped smoking, started a blog and moved even further away from Hungry Brain, so I don’t hang out there as often as I once did, but I stopped by the other day and was dazzled by its vintage barware, time-worn mid-century furniture and wall of gifts and memorabilia that customers have given them over the years. The building once housed a comedy improv company, but the stage isn’t just a relic. Emerging Improvisers plays jazz Sunday nights at 10 pm, and the Brain often hosts musicians, actors and poets. Chicago was once famous for its neighborhood taverns, but Hungry Brain is one of the relatively few remaining, so it’s worth checking out for that reason alone. In addition to the ambiance, Hungry Brain’s bartenders are friendly*, the drinks are cheap and the customers are cool. Jan and I both love writer Jonathan Ames’ short fiction and novels as well as the HBO series they inspired Bored to Death, and the Brain definitely seems like the kind of place one of his quirky, complex, intellectual characters would hang out. 2319 West Belmont Ave., Chicago.

Janis and Luz were inspired to name the bar Hungry Brain by a line in the 1960 Jerry Lewis movie Visit to a Small Planet.

Singer / songwriter Jan Terri autographed a photo for her friends at Hungry Brain. Here’s a link to Ms. Terri’s music video Losing You.

The triangle is a prop from the 1998 Judy Tenuta cinematic vehicle Butch Camp, which used Hungry Brain as a location.

Janis at Hungry Brain in 1998 (ish).

* Don’t let Dan’s deep voice intimidate you. He’s very friendly.

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6 Responses to “Inside: Hungry Brain”

  1. I love the photos and your commentary. A homeless man wandered in one night and said “It looks like a junkyard exploded”.

    But I prefer to see it through your eyes and it looks quite lovely.

  2. I’ve heard Tate talk about the Hungry Brain so often and it’s nice to finally see what all the enthusiasm was about. Way to go, Janis – looks like a great place to hang out.

  3. Great post about a great place!

  4. wow! What a cool place!

  5. The coolest of the cool!