Billy Goat Tavern – Chicago, Illinois
The genesis of the idiomatic expression “got your goat” which means “to greatly annoy someone” is in dispute with sources attributing it to both the United States and England. The American version has it that horse trainers would put a goat in a racing horse’s stall to keep it calm. When bettors wanted a horse to race badly, they took it away (ergo “got someone’s goat”) and the horse would become agitated and run badly. No evidence exists to support this legend. According to the English version, keeping a goat in the barn has a calming effect on cows, thereby motivating them to produce more milk. When rapscallions wanted to upset competing cattle ranchers, they would abscond with their goat rendering their cows less to non-productive.
In Chicago, the phrase “got your goat” has meant something entirely different since 1945, the very last time the Chicago Cubs played in the World Series. That’s more than 67 days of ineptitude and frustration. That’s the power of the “billy goat curse” and it all happened because Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley prevented local Greek restaurateur William “Billy Goat” Sianis and his pet goat Murphy from going through the turnstiles to watch game four of the Series. Legend has it that William cursed the Cubs with the prophetic statement “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.” Not only did the Cubs go on to lose game four and the subsequent games in the Series, they haven’t experienced success since.
You might think that such an outcry of anger and disapproval over William and his restaurant would have ensued that William would have been forced out of business, but since that day of infamy, most rancor seems to be directed at the Cubs organization. William’s Billy Goat Tavern has not only been a Chicago institution since 1934, it’s earned worldwide fame…and it’s done so despite serving food which, at best, be described as mediocre. The Billy Goat Tavern is not a dining destination. It’s not where any self-respecting gastronome would ever go expecting a great gourmet meal. We visit because of the experience.
We visit to experience for ourselves, the famous Saturday Night Live skit (back when SNL was funny) executed so uproariously funny by the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Loraine Newman. The hilarious skit was based on the Billy Goat Tavern, a hang-out for many of the show’s writers. It satirized the experience of dining at the restaurant where it doesn’t matter what you order, the colorful waitstaff will call out “cheezborger; no fries, cheeps; no Pepsi, Coke.”
Today, the thickly accented Greek wait staff continues to entertain guests just as William Sianis did all those years: “Try the double cheese! It’s the best! No fries, cheeps!” It’s part of the restaurant’s charm. It’s why we return. This type of wait schtick just doesn’t get old. The entertaining wait staff is just one of the things we love about the Billy Goat Tavern. We love that the restaurant isn’t at street level, but directly below Michigan Avenue on the Magnificent Mile. We love the homey hang-out feel of the joint where regulars belly up to the bar and grin with amusement as tourists snap photo after photo of their home away from home.
Cheeseburgers are the Billy Goat Tavern’s featured fare, some would say the only thing to eat. While the menu may list other items, including a few sandwiches, order something other than a cheezborger and you’ll incur the ire of the counterman who will admonish you: “Cheezborger! Double cheez! That’s the best!” I won’t advise ordering two double cheez. They just aren’t very good. Not only are the beef patties waifishly thin, they’re desiccated, maybe the driest burgers I’ve ever had. Worse, they’re served on a very dry Kaiser roll. You add your own pickles, onions, mustard and ketchup at a condiment bar. Trust me, you’ll need a lot of ingredients to make the burger palatable. The cheeps, made by Vitner’s, a Chicago staple, are very good.
Visitors to the Billy Goat Tavern are fully cognizant that they’re not going to be treated to a gourmet meal, but we still visit in droves. There’s a lot to be said about a restaurant with so much personality it’s become legendary.
Billy Goat Tavern
430 N. Michigan Ave at Lower Level
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Cheeps, Coke