“Sometimes, when I go downtown I don’t want to stop anywhere, I just want to buy a pack of cigarettes and a half-pint,” Frank Pulaski, a former bar owner known as “Chinatown Frankie” says. “But I don’t want to pay twenty bucks. The problem is there isn’t anyplace left to do it.” Well, Frank, you forgot about Cal’s Liquors. Its pink, glowing neon sign is the first hint that Cal’s has been at the same location for almost forty years. Its wide array of pints, half-pints, inexpensive wines and cigarettes is the second sign that Cal’s is a holdover from the days when the South Loop was home to printers on Printers Row. During those halcyon days the South Loop had three shifts of printers and blue collar workers whose main purpose before and after work was to make sure that they had their “boilermaker,” a shot of cheap whiskey and beer often drank in rapid succession. There were times—gasp—when printers would “do” two boilermakers during their fifteen-minute coffee break. Cal’s owner, a graduate of Mather High School and former baseball battery-mate of New York Times sportswriter Ira Berkow, also stocks a wide variety of high-end wines, champagnes and spirits for the many traders who somehow find a way to pass by Cal’s on their way home from the Chicago Board of Trade. Next door to the take-out counter is the bar, which seems to have been misplaced from Wicker Park back in the nineties. Featuring local punk and metal bands on weekends, two-dollar PBRs, and decorated with an array of empty aquariums, Cal’s is definitely one of the last neighborhood holdouts in the Loop.
400 South Wells
Best of Chicago 2010