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INSIDE: Joe's Sports Bar

940 W. Weed St.

Sights: Near the hustlin', bustlin' intersection of North, Clybourn and Sheffield, there's an establishment that can fill virtually every type of night life need -- there's a rump-shakin' dance club (Crobar), a cheesecake- bakin' gentlemen's club (Crazy Horse Too) and plenty of food-makin' eateries like Uncle Julio's Hacienda). Sports and live music lovin' post-collegians are people too, and this spacious nightclub is here for them -- lots of them. Joe's rivals its Wrigleyville brethren (Hi-Tops, the Cubby Bear) by attracting huge crowds despite not being located near a major sports venue. It's also easier to get to, conveniently located a few blocks east of the Kennedy Expressway. You don't get a sense of the sheer hugeness of the place from the outside, but once you step in the door, you find yourself inside a sprawling labyrinth of bars, beer tubs and tables. There are televisions and/or projection screens everywhere you look, and you can't swing a dead Northwestern Wildcat without hitting someone who's equipped to serve you a drink. The high ceilings and corrugated metal wall treatments give the place a roadhouse feel, particularly in the live music room, where an ample stage is bookended by a portable but formidable sound system. Adjacent to the cavernous concert area are a recreation room with pool tables and sports-themed video games (wanna go 18 on Golden Tee, anyone?) and a balcony that unfortunately provides no intriguing view of the stage, unless you're into shoe gazing.

Sounds: Sports play-by-play announcers rule the roost most of the time, although they're occasionally drowned out by cries of delight and anguish from the droves of fanatical sports followers. Live music is prominently featured Wednesday through Saturday nights, and although the sound system won't knock your socks off, it certainly does justice to the regional acts (Liquid Soul, the Why Store, etc.) that appear here.

Smells: Generally pleasant, as the high ceilings allow potentially offensive odors to waft harmlessly to the rafters. And during peak feasting times, there's no shortage of eye-watering aromas that emanate from one of the spicy selections on Joe's menu.

People: Although the crowds are usually huge, the clientele isn't the most diverse you'll see. But what's wrong with large numbers of attractive, well- groomed twentysomethings? Generally, everyone here has some affiliation with a college team, a pro team, or both, so feel free to wear your favorite hat or jersey. Chances are no matter who you're rooting for, someone else will be on your side. If you plan on showing up after dark, however, you might want to leave your sports regalia behind, otherwise you might look like a geek amidst the casual but trendy fashions that are more commonplace here in the evening.

Prime time: Whenever there's a notable sporting event being broadcast somewhere on the planet, particularly during late March and early April, when the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the beginning of a new baseball season and the emerging playoff scenarios in pro hockey and basketball collide. Also, if the band's cool, you'll have trouble finding a stool, particularly on Wednesdays, when disco revivalists the Afrodisiacs rock the house (yes, there are two disco balls above the bandstand).

At the bar: Which one? There are so many of them you'll never go thirsty, especially if you're a beer drinker. There's nothing special from a liquor standpoint, but the taps flow freely and bottles pop open in rapid fire fashion. Beer tubs are set up throughout the establishment as the size of the crowd dictates, with as many as eight satellite suds stands going strong during peak hours.

At the grill: Standard sports bar fare with a spicy slant, as five-alarm buffalo wings, chili, jalapeno poppers and pepper jack cheeseburgers are available to ignite the fire down below. The toasted ravioli is the most interesting of the appetizers, filled with spinach and artichoke and served with marinara sauce.

Essentials, etc.: Scoring free parking on the street can be a risky and time- consuming undertaking; fortunately there's valet service and a pay lot right across the street. The cover charge can escalate to the $10 range when the quality of the entertainment warrants, and drinks will run you $3 to $4 a pop. But it's worth it considering you shouldn't have to wait longer that a minute or two for service. The same goes for the bathrooms. In the men's room, for example, there are no less than a dozen receptacles to relieve yourself. If you love a sporting atmosphere but hate standing in line, this is the place for you. Just one question -- who the heck is Joe?

Lathrop is a Chicago freelance writer.

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