#88: A Thousand Whiskey Bottles

November 19th, 2012

The barman offered ice, which was declined, then poured a pint of Irish cider.

He smiled and was thanked. He returned to the corner of the bar to continue his paperwork while the cider-drinker and an old man with a beard, four-footed cane and stories about the steel die forge watched SportsCenter.

SportsCenter made a joke about electing a sports president that day along with the real one.

“Today’s the election?” the old man piped up. “I thought it was the 20th.”

The Gaelic surname on the outside of the bar promised a certain Irishness, which it delivered. The location at Roscoe and Damen and the mass of TVs promised a certain chaste sportiness, which it delivered as well.

It was a nice place, a good place, with inviting oak, comfortable seating, a charming, smiling barman and the top three feet of every wall lined with scribbled-on Jameson bottles.

What?

Running along the entire length of the bar, past the seats, over the TVs, around the dartboards, over the doors to the gents and basically snaking the circumference like a winning Go strategy were scores and scores of empty Jameson Irish Whiskey bottles.

They circled the top of the bar on little shelves made for nothing but the display of Jameson bottles. Each was scribbled upon illegibly, each in a different handwriting.

“If you finish a bottle of Jameson, you get to sign it,” the barman explained.

The barman, Chris by name, said the previous owner started the tradition. Whoever kills the last slurp of Jameson from a bottle, whether they downed the whole 750 ml themselves or just happened to get poured the last bit after some other drinker’s yeoman’s effort, gets to autograph the bottle for inclusion in the collection.

How charming! How quaint! What could possibly go wrong?

“There are thousands of them,” Chris said, shaking his head slightly.

Apparently, a popular Irish pub keeping every empty bottle of a popular Irish whiskey is not without its drawbacks. Over the years, the bottles have piled up.

Don’t get the cider-drinker wrong: The bar is still keeping the bottles. It’s just getting harder and harder to find places to store them. Chris would neither confirm nor deny the existence of a storage space full of scrawled-on Jamo, but did mention when bottles momentarily hauled to the alley got their 15 minutes of fame when a certain camera-laden car drove by.

“They’re on Google Earth,” Chris said. *

One plan to send the bottles off to a Southern recycling center to be melted into new glass-topped tables for the bar died a’borning.

“They wanted 30 grand,” Chris said.

Since Irish whiskey and the people who drink it aren’t going anywhere (we tend not to), bottles keep getting thrown in the collection. Week after week, month after month, more bottles no one has any idea what to do with.

At this point, as the SportsCenter blasted and the old man goggled that he missed the election, the cider-drinker requested a shot. Jameson, of course.

It was nowhere near signature time, but he figured he could help another fine-drinking soul get their moment of boozy immortality.

“It’s on me,” the barman said.

* The writer of this story could not find evidence of the bottles on Google Street View and sure wasn’t going to download Google Earth just to fact-check this. If you have Google Earth and can confirm this claim, please send a screenshot to 1001chicago@gmail.com.

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You are currently reading #88: A Thousand Whiskey Bottles by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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