Local tavern offers something for everyone on Sundays
By MARK GUARINO | Special to the Chicago Tribune
The sun is out, the Cubs are on television and all sales are final. Going through the clothing racks set up by a pool table, a woman asks no one in particular, “Where else can you go to get a massage, shop, drink, watch sports?”
No one answers, because they all know: It’s Gamblers, a neighborhood bar that, on this Sunday afternoon, is everything for everybody. This is the time of the year when attics, basements and garages are excavated for weekend sales, where, as the saying goes, one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.
But the tradition is more festive in this cozy bar at 4908 N. Pulaski Ave. in the Mayfair neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. For 14 years, owner Jackie Siivonen has been inviting regulars and neighbors to haul their wares inside the bar for a flea market that doubles as a feast. Siivonen, who grew up in Lakeview, said opening the bar up for a flea market “is great neighborhood relations.”
Golf clubs, dishes, handsaws and Christmas ornaments wait for new owners. Need three sets of Trivial Pursuit? A VHS copy of “Beverly Hills Cop”? A porcelain cat figurine? “Sexy slinky nighties” for only $2? Gamblers can deliver.
“The stranger things I can bring in here, the better,” Siivonen said with a laugh.
Freelance masseuse Sarah Gearhart rubs the shoulders of beefy regulars who lie face down in her padded chair. Many of her clients this Sunday have never been to a spa, but once she’s done untying the knots in their backs, they are converts. “I’m a healer,” she said.
Comfort food was courtesy of volunteer chef Leanne Richter. About two-dozen people form a line to fill their plate with an Italian meal of sausage and peppers, lasagna, salad and pastries. The food is homemade and from the heart: Three days of cooking time, 18 hours for the sauce alone.
Despite its name, Gamblers is a no-risk enterprise for families this day. Earlier, Lita and Gordon Hipps bought two rocking chairs for their children, who are running through the bar with other kids. In the 17 years they’ve been regulars, they’ve attended bridal showers, birthday showers, birthday parties.
“[Siivonen has] pretty much had everybody’s family events here,” said Lita.
The party extends across the alley to the garage of Mildred “Mickie” Gaza, who is 87 and has lived on the block her entire life, except during World War II when she served in the Navy personnel office in Hawaii. Gaza grew up two doors north; she bought her current home in 1957.
Gaza remembers when Gamblers didn’t exist; in its place was a butcher. Across the street was a family farm where they raised horses for the streetcar line and cows.
Not that she’s particularly nostalgic. Gamblers turned out to be a blessing — she is looked after by Siivonen who invites her to Sunday dinner each week. “Wonderful,” Gaza said. “You couldn’t ask for a nicer neighbor.”
Among her inventory this Sunday is Depression-era dishware once given away as freebies at the nearby Admiral Theatre, decades before it became a strip club. She pulls out a particularly large dish from the collection. “A dish like this would get the ladies lining up for blocks,” she said.
Gaza likes the extra income, but is not in dire straits: She has a full-time job, selling candy at a local Fannie May. “Keeps me off the couch,” she said.
Later that afternoon she exits Gamblers with a plate of Richter’s food to get back to her own selling. “Americans have too much of everything,” she said, with a laugh. “But I’m happy.”