Sunday Spotlight: A Visit to Chicago’s Own Billy Goat Tavern and Its SNL Connection

Billy Goat Tavern
Photo Courtesy: Billy Goat Tavern

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – August 16, 2015 (Gephardt Daily) – The Billy Goat Tavern is very much part of Chicago’s history. Serving up daily about 1,500 of what most Chicagoans feel is the city’s “Best Burger,” the tavern is celebrating it’s 80th year in business.

I had the honor to step behind the counter and in front of the grill to cook up my very own “cheezborger.”

A Little History of The Billy Goat Tavern:

Billy Goat Tavern and Grill
Photo Courtesy: Billy Goat Tavern

The Billy Goat Tavern’s 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 the 1970s, Sianis petitioned Mayor 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

Billy Goat Tavern and Grill
Photo Courtesy: Billy Goat Tavern

The Curse of the Cubs

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.

Billy Goat Tavern and Grill
Photo Courtesy: Billy Goat Tavern

Despite paid-for box seat tickets, Cubs owner Phillip 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.

 

 

In 1969, a year before he passed away, “Billy Goat” Sianis finally felt satisfied and claimed the curse is lifted, but the goat still was bitter.

The Cubs began the season winning and coasted throughout the season into mid-August with a commanding first place lead. By the end of the season a surging “Miracle” Mets overtook the struggling “Cursed” Cubs to claim first place and knock the Cubs out of contention. This would become a pattern over the years.

Billy Cubs 04
Photo Courtesy: evfxonline.com

In 1973, Billy Goat’s nephew and new Billy Goat Tavern owner, Sam Sianis, with the help of Tribune columnist, Dave Condon, brought the goat to Wrigley in an attempt to lift the curse. The goat was escorted to Wrigley in a white limousine, and given a red carpet entrance to the park with a sign saying, “All is forgiven. Let me lead the Cubs to the pennant.”

The ushers at the entrance denied the goat “Socrates,” a descendant of Murphy, yet again. The Cubs saw their mid-season first place lead whither away to another unsuccessful season.

The Cubs started the 1994 season horribly, losing twelve home games in a row. Their worst home start in history. In an effort to end this streak, Sam Sianis and his goat went to Wrigley Field only to be denied entrance yet again.

Billy Goat Tavern and Grill
Photo Courtesy: jaggedword.com

Amidst the chant of “Let the Goat in!” amongst the Wrigley crowd, Hall of Famer, Ernie Banks helped by escorting Sam and his goat into Wrigley. The Cubs won the game 5-2, ending their worst home start ever. A lesson learned?

 

Live From New York…

Ordering at the Billy Goat may go something like this:

“Cheezborger! Cheezborger! You want doublecheez?!?

Who’s next!?! WHO’S NEXT!?!”

Billy Goat Tavern and Grill
Photo Courtesy: Yelp.com

If you take more than one second to answer: “Don’t look at the menu, look at ME! I order for you – DOUBLECHEEZ!”

If you only feel like a single: “No. DOUBLECHEEZ!!!”

If it’s the end of the week: “It’s Friday, doublecheez for everybody!

It’s payday! Triplecheez for the big guy!”

Want French fries with that? “No fries – CHEEPS!”

Thirsty? “No Pepsi – COKE!” To drink: “Coke or Diet?!”

Such rantings by the Billy Goat staff have gone on for almost 40 years and originated when Billy Goat Sianis and another Greek immigrant by the name of Bill Charuchas would entertain patrons by yelling out: “Try the double cheese! It’s the best! No fries, cheeps!”

Billy Goat Tavern and Grill SNL
Photo Courtesy: NBC TV

In the 1978, Sam Sianis and Charuchas were immortalized by Saturday Night Live’s John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Loraine Newman.

The sketch was originally written by Don Novello (of Father Guido Sarducci fame) when he was an advertising copywriter in Chicago.

John Belushi and Bill Murray knew the Billy Goat from their Second City days (Belushi actually worked behind the counter for a few weeks), and the rest is history. When in Chicago, Don Novello and Bill Murray still come by and visit Sam and the Billy Goat staff and have their “Doublecheezborger”!

Billy Goat Tavern and Grill SNL
Photo Courtesy: NBC TV

 

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