Frozen out

Blackhawks fans lament

12/03/2012 12:00 PM

By Bill Motchan

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Rege Panti, Union Park Lounge manager, says she can tell business is off without hockey.

Jak's Tap bartender Mike McGuiness (left) and Jak's regular Andrew Ripani said the lack of hockey is noticeable.

If you’re a diehard Blackhawks fan, you may know today is day 79 of the NHL lockout. NHL players and owners are scheduled to meet face-to-face tomorrow in an attempt to forge a deal. If they're not successful, the possibility of salvaging the 2012-2013 hockey season will dim even further.

The conventional wisdom is the lockout hurts players, owners and fans. There’s also a group of businesses suffering collateral damage: West Loop sports bars.

Proximity to the United Center makes West Loop watering holes the perfect pre- and post-game gathering spots. A number of neighborhood bars display large “Official Blackhawks Bar” signs. On game nights, the places are truly hopping. I was curious about how the NHL lockout was affecting our neighborhood bars.

Jak’s Tap at 901 W. Jackson caters to fans of all sports (even offering a safe haven to St. Louis Cardinals fans like me). Last Thursday night, a group of guys was intently watching the Saints-Falcons NFL game. Andrew Ripani, a West Loop resident at the table, is in three fantasy football leagues, so he was keeping an eye on his players. How is he coping without hockey?

“I do miss it,” Ripani said. “I usually find myself looking for sports to watch in the evening because it helps break up the work week. Chicago is a hockey town so it feels like something is off without it.”

Mike McGuiness, a Jak’s Tap bartender, said he’s noticed a difference.

“Business is still good, but it would be a whole lot better with hockey,” McGuiness said.

One of the guys sitting with Ripani was Canadian Brian Hawes, who is also suffering withdrawal.

“As a kid, we had it on all the time,” Hawes said. “They’re replaying games from 1974 in Canada right now. Hockey is the first story on the news in Canada every night. I’ve lived in the U.S. since I was 18, and we don’t get as much hockey here anyway, but now there’s nothing.”

A little farther west—and only a half dozen blocks from the United Center—is another hockey fan haven, Union Park Lounge at 228 S. Racine. Manager Rege Panti said business at Union Park is “way off from normal—it’s horrible.

“Blackhawks fans are different,” Panti said. “It’s an older crowd. They come before the game and drink more. They’re out to have a good time.”

Panti said Union Park is trying to generate more patrons with non-sports-theme entertainment.

“We have trivia night now on Wednesdays and Fridays, and we just started karaoke nights. We’re also focused right now on booking as many holiday parties as we can.”

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