Local hero

02/02/2011 4:00 AM |

Minor Arcana

706 Washington Avenue, Prospect Heights

Rating:3 out of 5 L’s

A wise friend described the appeal of Minor Arcana: “It’s just a bar. It’s not terribly theme-y. There’s a bit of bric-a-brac, but nothing to impede its main purpose: drinking.” The bar’s name refers to a deck of tarot cards. In tarot-speak, the 56 cards of the minor arcana give subtle insight to the 22 cards of the major arcana, which tackle the big-time subjects of romance, success, vice and sacrifice—and fortune-telling mumbo-jumbo makes perfect sense after a few rounds at happy hour. They’ve got buy-one-get-one-free deals from 4 to 8pm and again from midnight to 2am, which means you can have deep, drunken thoughts about the occult even on a very tight budget. In fact, when you get your first drink, you’ll be given a tarot card as a ticket for your freebie. Note to the superstitious: Getting the Death card as a drink ticket can be unsettling, but not disturbing enough to refuse a free beer.

Sideshow-inspired art hangs from the bar’s gray walls, some more tarot cards are taped up to the dingy bathroom walls, and oddball dioramas are displayed beneath the Plexiglas-topped bar. Everything looks crappy enough to confirm that no designers were involved with the décor, yet the quirks aren’t heavy-handed here. There are twelve brews on tap, but no pressure to order anything fancier than a Guinness. During our visit we asked about the Troegenator, and since the keg was new, the bartender taste-tested it with us. There may’ve been notes of plum and fresh-baked bread in this doppelbock, but this isn’t the kind of place that encourages waxing poetic about hops and whatnot. Less talking means more drinking.

A couple of blocks west, on Vanderbilt, you can watch sports at Woodwork, sip fancy cocktails at the Vanderbilt, or soak up the honky-tonk vibe at Branded Saloon. But on this strip of Washington Avenue, there are fewer distractions. Minor Arcana is TV-less. Sam Cooke, the Pixies and the Ramones are on the jukebox; corndogs and pigs-in-a-blanket are on the menu. Most of the seating is at the bar, but there’s a circle of mismatched thrift store furniture in the front window. The bar does feature Tuesday trivia nights, occasional psychic readers, and Saturday night burlesque shows. Some Fridays promise Shlock & Soul DJ nights that offer a mix of rock, punk, soul, garage and funk. But is this off-the-beaten-path spot angling to attract patrons from far and wide? Nah, that’s not really the point. The beauty of this solid local bar is that it never seems to be trying too hard.