UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — For decades, the intersection of Iowa and Rockwell streets in Ukrainian Village was lit by a red, white, and blue Hamm’s beer sign perched outside Archie’s Iowa Rockwell Tavern.
The sign has been there since the 1960s, Archie’s manager and co-owner Katrina Arthur said, and other beer signs have hung outside the bar since his great-grandparents, immigrants from Poland, opened it in 1943.
But on Friday, the Hamm sign — emblazoned with the company slogan “Born In The Land Of Sky Blue Waters” — was removed by Archie’s owners under pressure from the city.
Since 2017 Archie’s has been in a fight with the city over various signs outside the bar, Arthur said, including in its windows and an awning over the front door. Arthur co-owns the café with his mother Deborah Pup and brother Ken Prorok.
But when the family went to renew the bar’s liquor license this month, Arthur said he had been told the city would hold the renewal unless the Hamm sign fell.
He said he was told the building, owned by the family, was not properly zoned to display the sign. Archie’s is on a residential street and is the only business for a several block radius.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Economic Affairs and Consumer Protection said Archie’s does not have a permit for a public use sign, and the city first issued a correction notice in 2017.
To reattach the sign, Archie’s must obtain a permit through the Department of Commercial Affairs, as well as a sign permit from the Department of Buildings,” which includes a zoning review and approval from the Department of Planning and development,” the spokesman said in an email.
Arthur said the bar plans to apply for a zoning change for the building and hopes to have the sign restored in 2023.
“I think a lot of this is just a paperwork issue, because when the sign was initially installed in the 1940s, zoning permits were completely different than they are today,” Arthur said. “And I think since he’s been in the family so long, there really wasn’t a lot of opportunity for checks and balances in licensing.”
But for Arthur and his family – and scores of Archie’s regulars – the Hamm sign is more than just an advertisement for the cheap bear.
Archie’s official name is Iowa Rockwell tavern, after the cross streets it has called home for nearly 80 years. But the corner bar has passed by Archie’s for decades, after Arthur’s grandfather, Arthur “Archie” Boraca.
Boraca’s parents gave him the bar in 1950 when he was just 19, Arthur said, and he ran it until 2005. In the more than 50 years that have passed, it has literally become synonymous with a cozy neighborhood tavern.
“The reason it became known as Archie’s is instead of people saying ‘let’s go down to the Iowa Rockwell tavern,’ it was ‘let’s see Archie, let’s go to Archie’s,'” said Arthur. “And that’s how we developed that name.”
Since the Hamm sign was installed in the 1960s, it has become a “beacon” in the neighborhood, Arthur said. Boraca often closed the bar on the front, but if the sign was still lit, the neighbors knew they could still slip in for a beer.
In recent years, it has acted as a veritable nightlight for people walking their dog down dark residential streets before the bar closes, Arthur said. And if the power goes out nearby due to a thunderstorm, the bar will leave the sign lit all night.
“If there’s a big storm…and the lights go out, we leave the sign on overnight to provide some extra lighting for our neighbors,” said Arthur. “Many people have called it a lighthouse.”
The Hamm’s sign is unique not only in Ukrainian Village but throughout Chicago, where Old Style beer signs are commonplace in front of neighborhood taverns and bars.
And while Archie’s sells plenty of house and craft beers, Hamm’s remains popular—very popular—at the bar.
In 2018 and 2019, Archie’s was the top seller of 12-ounce Hamm cans in the entire United States, selling about 50,000 cans each of those years, Arthur said. The bar has sold nearly 40,000 so far in 2022, he said.
Since publicly announcing that the sign would be going down last week, Arthur said he’s received tremendous support on social media, with posts receiving hundreds of likes and candid comments about the sign and the café in general.
Arthur said the experience was difficult, especially as it coincided with the anniversary of Boraca’s death.
“I grew up in the shadow of the sign. I grew up in that building and so there’s a lot of emotion involved,” she said. “And November 19 was the ninth anniversary of my grandfather’s death. So for all of this happening in the same week, it was very emotional for him,” he said.
Now, Arthur and his family plan to speak with a zoning attorney and are optimistic that the sign will return next year.
“We are very hopeful that the sign will return in the new year,” said Arthur. “We will wait our turn for the appeals process and go from there.”
Meanwhile, they’re looking forward to the bar’s 80th birthday party, which will be held in June with or without the Hamm sign out front.
Arthur called it a “monumental” achievement and said the bar’s longevity is due to its regulars and neighborhood patrons, who have supported Archie’s since it opened during World War II.
“We do not operate independently of the community. We operate within our own community and want to be a good neighbor,” she said. “One of the reasons we have been able to survive COVID is because people felt like there was something special, like a home away from home from Archie. always make sure I do our best to be a part of our community.”
As for the current location of Hamm’s sign? It’s being kept in a secure “secret place,” Arthur said with a laugh.
“I have it in a secret place. Because Hamm memorabilia has skyrocketed in the last year. And that sign is very, very valuable, especially with the history and family history behind it,” she said.
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