Sunday, April 30, 2023

Flashback 1988: "Loop's Ranch music bar seeking new homestead"

    Twitter gets a lot of criticism, and rightly so. But one well-placed tweet can send you tumbling back in time. Like this, from my fellow University of Chicago Press author Mark Guarino.
     Suddenly it was the late 1980s and I was on the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. night shift again. One benefit of working midnights is you'd actually see the paper you wrote. Turn in a story at 8 p.m., and by 1 a.m. the stacks of tomorrow's newspapers containing it appear.
    For this story, if I recall properly, I started the evening at the country and western bar in the heart of the Loop, returned to the paper to write the article. Then, after I got off work, say 2 a.m., Tim Gerber and I cheekily went back to the Bar RR Ranch with a pile of the latest edition, featuring a story about the place. We were well-received.
     Things get hazy from there, because of the press of years, and, ah, other factors. I do remember singing "Tequila Sunrise" on stage. And I seem to recall Tim later climbing halfway up the Dubuffet sculpture before the police arrived and suggested he not do that, though I suppose that could have been a different night. There were also pancakes at the Golden Nugget at dawn, maybe. Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading Mark's book.

     What good is progress if it means a person can't find live country music in the heart of the Loop at 3 a.m., or settle down across from the Daley Center to enjoy a steaming "chili mac tamale ham and cheese bowl"?
Not the Sundowners
     That was the question raised by several hundred people who gathered at the R. R. Ranch, 56 W. Randolph, to soak up ambience and beer at the Loop fixture.
     The Ranch, which originally opened in 1948 on Clark Street, faces eviction from its latest home at the doomed Woods Theater Building sometime this winter.
     "This is fun, this is old-time country," said patron Joel Montgomery, of Chicago. "It's too bad they've got to close."
     "Just what we need, another office building," his friend, Julie Hodson, of Chicago, said about the 40-story structure planned for the site.
     Emotions flowed with the beer Thursday night, which was billed as the "Last Roundup at the Ranch," though the basement bar is expected to be open through the end of January.
     "We love this bar! This is our favorite bar!" said Catherine Champion, of Chicago, who was out with co-workers from Crate & Barrel.
     "It's so much fun, and we love the Sundowners," she said, referring to the rustic trio the Ranch has featured for the last 30 years. "They play whatever we ask them, and we get everybody to dance."
     Barbara Scheid, a co-owner, reminisced about the many famous people who stumbled into the bar.
     "Robert Duvall was here, singing like a crazy person," said Scheid, who also remembered the rock star Sting showing up one night. 
Also not the Sundowners
     Scott and Gail Robson of Chicago, who got engaged at the Ranch to the romantic strains of a Patsy Cline song, returned to sit one more time at the heavily graffitied tables and soak up the boisterous atmosphere.
     Chris Harmon, of the Friends of Downtown, circulated petitions asking the owners of the Woods Building to allow the Ranch to stay as long as possible.
     "We're trying to generate public support to keep the bar open while they search for a new location," she said. "The Ranch is a dynamic, different part of downtown life, and we don't want to lose it."
     The Ranch's owners said they are trying to find a new spot for the bar, which was first located on Clark Street north of Madison, then moved to 56 W. Madison and finally to its present location in 1977.
     "We've got a couple of things going, but we haven't been able to finalize them," said Art Brown, another co-owner. "We'd like to stay in the downtown area. The big core of our business is downtown."
     Brown said that despite problems with finding a suitably large location and the skyrocketing rents that have forced many colorful small businesses out of the Loop, the Ranch management was optimistic it would find a new Loop location.
     "We're always one step ahead of the wrecking ball," he said. "In our hearts, we're very confident."
       —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Dec. 30, 1988


  1. Oh! The lunchtime escapades at this wonderful bar! Great mix of office workers and construction workers. Everyone partaking together.

  2. Been to a lot of Chicago bars, taverns, saloons and pubs. Sorry that I either missed or don't remember The Ranch.


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