[Author's Note: Simply Ray's Pub and Grub at 4709 N. Damen, Chicago, was the first bar my friends and I called home after college. It had everything; great food, great specials every day of the week, cute waitresses and its character of an owner, Ray. It was a Sox bar, it was a dive bar, it was a neighborhood bar. It was our bar.
Ray's closed its doors in April 2004 for reasons which vary depending who you ask. Whatever it was, and wherever Ray went, the end of Simply Ray's marked the end of a brief but forever memorable era in our lives.
If anyone knows what happened to the bar, or if Ray and pals have set up shop elsewhere, please post a comment below or drop me an email. I'd love to hear about it, and I know a few others who would too.
What follows is the eulogy I wrote that coldest of springs in honor of our favorite haunt.]
"The number you have reached, 561-1757, has been disconnected."
I believe this makes it official. Driving home yesterday I stopped out front to see if there had been any news, any changes, maybe even a letter taped to the front door for the beloved owner to at least address his faithful followers.
Instead I was greeted with a glimpse through the windows of our holy place, and it was a sad sight indeed. The precious few points where the taped-up newspaper had either been removed or fallen offered little in the way of hope or encouragement. The chairs and stools were gone. The walls were stripped of their oddly interesting collage of Three Stooges, Beatles, and White Sox decorations. The jukebox was off and the area behind the bar - the area which had so many times given any of us one to sixteen ounces of comfort, refuge, sanctuary and release - was dry. It was as if someone had come into our church and drank all the holy water.
There was no smoke in the air. There was no cast of local characters in their various states of despair and intoxication. There was no college basketball on any of the poorly-placed televisions. There was no one who loved the Sox. There was no one who hated the Cubs. There was no one looking for a hearty sandwich or a ridiculously-designed pizza which would turn out to change their life. There was only a light on over the dirty and storied wooden altar which ran the length of the front room where not too long ago we would have might have seen the Man himself enjoying a round with his patrons who he loved as he would love family, and who in turn would express the love they had for him in the only way they knew how: with another shot of blackberry brandy.
And that light, my friends, had written on it two words which I believe in my heart of hearts will ring forever true to the five of us. They were two words of hope. Two words of calm and two words of beauty. They were two words with which I will raise a silent toast to the greatest bar the city of Chicago ever has known and ever will know.
Some of us already knew this, but I thought I would take a moment to make sure we all knew: Simply Ray's closed its doors not too long ago. No one seems to know why but the consensus is that the bar is not reopening. Maybe everyone's wrong, and maybe our favorite place to go whenever the hour hand is pointing at 11 will return from its hibernation with more drinks, more food, and more ways than ever before to make every hour into a happy hour. But until that happens, my friends, I don't believe things will be the same for any of us. All we can do now is remember the good times we had at Ray's and go find ourselves a giant sandwich and a bottle of brandy.
Oh, and you're probably asking, what were the two words I saw on written on that tattered barroom light? They were the only two words that matter at a time like this:
We love you Ray.