The Billy Goat is authentic Chicago

Saving the tavern means preserving the city's history

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#savethegoat

That's how people communicate now, particularly young people, what with their hashtags and their tweets.

And dads like me with social media-adept teenagers at home watch in wonder as Twitter wars among the young rage on various fronts, those pungent opinions flying.

I just love it when young people argue about what is truly authentic about Chicago, one-upping each other on the best dives in the city. This one has a late night tamale guy. Another one has a guy you better not talk to.

They rediscover old places, and some search for the city that was, before downtown was turned into a theme park.

If they're still looking, they might want to walk down the stairs off Michigan Avenue, into the shadows, to find a part of Chicago truly worth saving:

The Billy Goat Tavern.

The Goat is a real tavern, a working man's tavern, not a party place for climbers. You can drink there and not go broke. Drafts cost only $3.50, and the bartenders refuse to float fruit in your beer.

You can also get the best breakfast deal in the city, a giant grilled kaiser roll thick with bacon, egg and cheese and a cup of coffee, for around five bucks.

"You feed the people. You pour them a drink," said my friend, proprietor Sam Sianis. "I always like this."

Yes, it has history, Chicago history, newspaper history, and the bylines over the bar speak to newspaper nostalgia. Decades of cigar smoke are embedded into the walls, like memories, and the stories of all the goats Sam would bring down to entertain columnists.

Including the one that Chris the grill man washed with a hose out back one February, creating the first goat-Popsicle. End of goat.

But the Goat has been in the news lately, and the news is, well, unsettling.

A few days ago news reports began circulating that the owner of the building, the National Association of Realtors, was thinking about developing a new giant high-rise, and if it were any other development, it wouldn't mean much.

Yet this one threatens the Billy Goat. Sam and his sons have no plans to move. Sam says he has had a great relationship with the Realtors.

"I remember when a newspaper man and the Realtor president came for a drink, when the Billy Goat was on West Madison," Sam said. "I poured them a drink. And they looked at me and the man said, 'We want you to come downtown and open up on Lower Michigan.' And that's what we did. We opened the place. It was 1964."

And a few years ago, when the Realtors set up shop in Washington, they asked Sam to open a Billy Goat there. He did. There are several Billy Goat Taverns now.

The one on Lower Michigan Avenue is the one that I grew up in, back when I was a kid, when I foolishly thought that authentic Chicago meant passing tests and quizzes about trivia.

But there comes a time when being of Chicago — even if you now live in the suburbs — means knowing the eternal truth:

We're all screwed.

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