Friday, June 4, 2021

Remembering the Bucket


Despite its name, Bucket O’Suds owner Joe Danno claimed his joint on Cicero was a bourbon bar. I met him there in 1992, long before bourbon bars were a thing. The supporting evidence for his claim was convincing. If you ordered ‘bourbon,’ without a call, you got a healthy free pour of a top shelf brand. Water was by request and ice may not have been available. In those days, Danno's ‘well’ pour was Very Very Old Fitzgerald, the now-legendary 12-year-old made at Stitzel-Weller. He swore he would pour it until it was all gone, but he couldn’t buy more because the Japanese had cornered the market.

The name ‘Bucket of Suds’ may have been inspired by another Chicago bar, The Bucket of Blood, an infamous saloon on the southwest corner of 19th Street and Federal in the Levee District, notorious during the late 19th and early 20th century. It was still operating in 1916 even though the District had been officially cleaned up in 1910.

On the backbar at the Bucket, Danno had brands that hadn’t been sold in years. Many bottles were empty, just there to take up space. In some, the remaining whiskey was undrinkable. I know, I tried. He had a Fairfield McKenna, a unicorn so rare most people have never even heard of it. It is a wonderful whiskey when in good shape, but the little bit in The Bucket's bottle was not in good shape. It tasted like vanilla extract, and not in a good way. Other bottles bore names like Belle of Nelson and James E. Pepper, brands that died in the 60s. 

I wasn’t a regular. I was only there a few times. Lots of people knew it much better than I did. Joe was a craft mixologist before that was a thing too. He created all sorts of drinks, frequently described as “crazy,” often using ingredients he invented with names like Elixer Lucifer, Apple Knocker, and Meister Likker. It was just Danno and his sister-in-law, Fena, who I remember passing around a tray of deviled eggs.

Danno opened The Bucket in 1964. It was a neighborhood tavern then, a family place. By 1992 it was an idiosyncratic dive bar, open Wednesday thru Saturday starting at about 7:00 PM. Often the outside lights would be off and the door locked. You had to knock. 

The Bucket is long gone but there will be places like it as long as people drink. At least, there should be.


Tony said...

Chuck thanks for the walk down memory lane. I frequented the bucket through the 80’s and the Royal Blast back then was a shot of OOPS - Old Oscar Pepper - which may have been pre-prohibition as several bottles were, along with a mug of Bass ale - all for $5. Joe and Fena were dear people, and I stayed in touch after he retired to Arizona. Nothing can replace those memories- the gift is in the retelling. Thank you.

Sam Komlenic said...

The Bucket may be gone, but our love of dive bars continues unchecked. Every time I'm in New York, I try to get to Rudy's on 9th Avenue. A pint of the house draft and a shot of Bushmills can be had for $6 ($5 if you're willing to go with Seagram's 7 instead), and if you know to ask, they'll give you a free hot dog!

Great stuff, Chuck...thanks!

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Rudy's is one of my favorite NYC bars. The friendliest bar in the city. The Dublin House on the Upper West Side is another. I haven't been to the City in over a year, but when I go, those two are among the first places I hit.

Anonymous said...

It's been years since I thought of it, but this reminds me of a long-gone place out in Santa Barbara. It was the sort of place where you could tell the regulars by the way they knew how to step around the holes in the floorboards.