Billy Goat Tavern
The Billy Goat Tavern is a chain of taverns located in Chicago, Illinois, founded in 1934 by Billy Sianis, a Greek immigrant. It achieved fame primarily through newspaper columns by Mike Royko, a supposed curse on the Chicago Cubs, and the Olympia Cafe sketch on Saturday Night Live.
It now has several locations in the Chicago area, including Navy Pier, the Merchandise Mart, O'Hare Airport, Randhurst Village in Mt. Prospect, and the West Loop on Madison Street, just blocks from the United Center, and expanded to Washington, D.C. in 2005. The D.C. location is the first outside of the Chicago area and is intended to appeal primarily to politicians, lobbyists, and other D.C. workers who are originally from Chicago, as well as students from the Georgetown University Law Center, located across the street.
The first location, at 1855 W. Madison St., was opened in 1934 when William "Billy Goat" Sianis bought the Lincoln Tavern, near Chicago Stadium, for $205 with a bounced check (he made good on it with the proceeds from the first weekend they were open). When the 1944 Republican National Convention came to town, he posted a sign saying "No Republicans allowed," causing the place to be packed with Republicans demanding to be served. Of course, a great deal of publicity followed, which Sianis characteristically took advantage of.
In 1964, the eatery moved to its current address at 430 N. Michigan Ave., which is actually below Michigan Avenue, made possible by Chicago's network of multilevel streets in that vicinity. Being situated between the offices of the Chicago Tribune and the old Chicago Sun-Times building led to the tavern's being mentioned in any number of newspaper columns, particularly those of Mike Royko.
In the 1970s, Sianis petitioned the mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, to issue him the first liquor license for the moon. His hope, according to the letter that currently adorns the establishment's wall, was to best serve his country by serving delicious cheeseburgers to wayfaring astronauts as well as raising moon-goats.
On New Year's Eve 2005, the tavern fittingly held the farewell party for the famed City News Bureau of Chicago, whose reporters were a fixture at the Billy Goat for decades. A small sign commemorating America's first news agency still hangs near the northwest wall.
In what he said he hopes becomes a tradition, Illinois's Republican junior U.S. Senator-elect Representative Mark Kirk met with his defeated Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, for 20 minutes at the Chicago tavern following the bitter campaign and a tight election, where both sides had made each other's missteps very public.
The tavern is also known for its involvement in the Curse of the Billy Goat (also known as the "Cubs Curse"). Owner Sianis brought a pet goat, a tavern mascot, to Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, a home game at Wrigley Field against the Detroit Tigers. Despite paid-for box seat tickets, Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley allegedly ejected Sianis and goat due to the latter's odor. Supposedly, Sianis placed a curse on the team that they would not win another pennant or play in a World Series again.
Another sign reads: "Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger. No Pepsi. Coke," These words, with Pepsi and Coke in reverse order, were originally spoken and immortalized by John Belushi in, "Olympia Cafe," an early Saturday Night Live sketch that was inspired by the tavern.
Belushi said in an interview with Chicago radio icon Steve Dahl that he'd never set foot inside the Billy Goat. It was Bill Murray and sketch writer (and bit player) Don Novello who were the regulars at the Billy Goat.
- Rick Kogan (2006). A Chicago Tavern: A Goat, A curse, and the American Dream. Lake Claremont Press. ISBN 978-1-893121-49-2.