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Owner Scott Martin poses for a portrait with the iconic neon sign at Simon’s Tavern, 5210 N. Clark St., in Andersonville on May 21, 2024. The bar is turning 90 this year. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

ANDERSONVILLE — The backdrop of Andersonville's Clark Street business corridor may have evolved over the decades, but one anchor on the street has remained steadfast: an unsuspecting neighborhood bar with a large “pickled” herring neon sign hanging over the sidewalk.

Simon’s Tavern, 5210 N. Clark St., has been operating for 90 years as of this spring, owner Scott Martin said.

It became a legally licensed bar in May 1934 under its original owner Simon Lundberg after operating as an illegal basement speakeasy during the latter years of Prohibition. In 1970, Lundberg passed the business to his son Roy Lundberg who ran it until 1994, when Martin took the reins.

Andersonville has changed dramatically over the past century, but it's been the community of employees and customers who have made Simon’s the beloved mainstay it’s become despite its time of ups and downs, said Martin, a Chicago native.

“The people that work here make everything work more than me,” Martin said. “They’re behind the bar every day talking with customers, and those customers come back because of those people.”

Simon’s Tavern, 5210 N. Clark St., in Andersonville on May 21, 2024. The bar is turning 90 this year. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

Martin said it's been a joy to run the bar, meet fascinating people, watch them fall in love and find comfort and fun among peers.

“The relationship you have with people when you own a bar is unbelievably important,” Martin said. “It’s where people come to get away. And every part of the neighborhood is hanging out here. It’s really neat to see older people coming in hanging out with younger people.”

To celebrate the bar’s tenure, Martin organized a month of live music from each of the decades Simon’s has been open.

The remaining schedule includes:

  • Wednesday: Gerald Dowd & Friends, performing '90s music, including Fountains of Wayne and more.
  • Sunday: Rachel Drew Band, performing folk and pop music of the '40s and more.
  • Wednesday, May 29: Someone Good & Friends, performing Swedish hits
  • Thursday, May 30: Western Elstons, performing music of the '50s and country swing.
The iconic neon sign at Simon’s Tavern, 5210 N. Clark St., in Andersonville on May 21, 2024. The bar is turning 90 this year. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

One Of The Surviving Vestiges Of Swedish Culture

On a cloudy afternoon in May, Martin is in Simon’s Tavern’s kitchen making glögg, a Swedish spiced mulled wine. It’s one of a few ways Martin ensures the neighborhood bar maintains its Swedish roots nearly 100 years after its inception.

A traditional batch of glögg is made with dark port wine, brandy, raisins, orange peel, almonds and warm spices like cinnamon, clove and cardamon, Martin said.

But on this particular day, Martin’s making it with lingonberries, peaches, Tahitian vanilla beans and a few secret ingredients. He makes different variations of the drink around the year, like a Granny Smith apple take or a frozen slushy version in the summer, which draw in locals and tourists alike, Martin said.

“We feature things that are Swedish in their origins and also Americanized, but still hold true to the Swedish ancestry,” Martin said.

Owner Scott Martin at Simon’s Tavern, 5210 N. Clark St., in Andersonville on May 21, 2024. The bar is turning 90 this year. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

Martin grew up in the neighborhood, attending nearby Amundsen High School and going to church at Ebenezer Lutheran, where his mother was a secretary for 26 years. He even snuck in some underage drinking at Simon's Tavern, but realized he hadn't been so sneaky when his father brought him there to celebrate his 21st birthday, he said.

In the late '90s, Martin also bought the popular restaurant Svea down the block at 5236 N. Clark St., one of the other few remaining vestiges of the neighborhood’s Swedish heritage.

Andersonville was once a thriving scene for Chicago’s Swedish community. The Clark Street corridor is still bustling with customers and mom-and-pop shops, but an ever-growing presence of chain restaurants and stores has some neighbors and business owners weary.

Simon’s Tavern, 5210 N. Clark St., in Andersonville on May 21, 2024. The bar is turning 90 this year. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

Several of the city’s popular Swedish spots closed over the years, including Andersonville’s Swedish Bakery, which closed in 2017 after 88 years in business and Erikson’s Delicatessen, which was evicted from its Andersonville storefront in 2015.

Chains like Taco Bell Cantina, Kilwins, sweetgreen, Jeni’s and Warby Parker opened on the strip in recent years to the chagrin of some locals. When news broke late last year that the upscale market chain Foxtrot was eyeing an expansion to the Far North Side, the community blasted the potential move.

With Foxtrot and Dom's Kitchen & Market abruptly closing, Andersonville has been among neighborhoods offering a platform for local vendors to recoup.

“Obviously as a business owner, that’s the fearful thing, that the chains come in,” Martin said. “They’re going to pay more than a mom-and-pop shop can pay for rental space, and that pushes everybody else. That’s not good.”

But despite the changes to the neighborhood, Martin said he can’t imagine a world where Simon’s Tavern doesn’t exist and hopes to be able to celebrate its 100 birthday.

“I’m lucky as heck to have been in the neighborhood I love more than any other place in the world and got to own two businesses and provide a service that people are looking for,” Martin said. “I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it.”

A painting of deer adorn the walls at Simon’s Tavern, 5210 N. Clark St., in Andersonville on May 21, 2024. The bar is turning 90 this year. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

As it was for many small business owners, the COVID-19 pandemic was a tough time for Simon’s Tavern and Svea, Martin said. In 2020, neighbors rallied behind both businesses to preserve the community’s Scandinavian culture.

But the required closings also gave Martin the time and opportunity to repair things around Simon’s, he said.

He and his team installed new floors and rebuilt the foot rail below the bar, replacing the parts where customers wore through it by tapping their feet on the rail over the decades.

Next on the list is repairing the sprawling but deteriorating mural along the interior, which will be expensive, Martin said.

The mural, known as “The Deer Hunters Ball,” purportedly connects to the story of a ghost that's haunted Simon's Tavern for decades, Martin previously told DNAInfo.

But in the meantime, Martin said he's keeping things at Simon's Tavern old-fashioned.

“It's funny how everything changes, but one thing's been constant: People do like to have a beer and they do like to meet their friends when they're done working,” Martin said. “And the bar is still here, providing that space. I'm proud of that, for sure.”


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