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Handlebar - A Crappy Experience (Just So You Know)

Handlebar - A Crappy Experience (Just So You Know)
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  • Handlebar - A Crappy Experience (Just So You Know)

    Post #1 - June 11th, 2006, 10:52 pm
    Post #1 - June 11th, 2006, 10:52 pm Post #1 - June 11th, 2006, 10:52 pm
    Mrs. johnny and I decided to grab a quick bite at Handlebar this afternoon. Our attempts were foiled by the slow waitstaff and even more leisurely pace of the kitchen.

    For the unfamiliar, Handlebar is a Wicker Park institution known for its vegetarian-friendly menu that is a popular hangout for bike messengers, dirty hippies, social outcasts and other assorted folks. It's a nice neighborhood joint to grab a beer and some grub on a weekend afternoon. My past experiences have been fine - although the service has always been noticeably slow.

    Unfortunately, today's experience will likely be my last.
    Upon arrival, we grabbed a seat in the sparsely populated dining room. Eventually, the waitress arrived with menus. Our initial order of coffee arrived a few minutes later. I ordered a BBQ saiten sandwich. Mrs. Johnny ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. A full 45 minutes elapsed before we received our meals?!

    The BBQ saiten sandwich consisted of a heaping pile of sloppy, unseasoned seitan served between a large ciabatta roll. After adding salt, pepper and hot sauce, the sandwich actually wasn't too bad. I'm not quite sure how it took 45 minutes to prepare, but it satisfied my hunger. The problem I have with most vegetarian meals that attempt to replicate a similar meat-based dish is how inferior they often are. The entire time I was eating this sandwich, I couldn't help but think how much better it would taste if were actual pulled pork instead. My side dishes included french fries and macaroni and cheese. The fries, while good, were of the shoestring variety. I prefer mine cut thicker - a personal preference.

    The real problem was with my wife's grilled cheese sandwich - which also came with two sides. Although she ordered garlic mashed potatoes and greens, she received macaroni and cheese instead of the potatoes. Not a big deal - until we brought it to the attention of our server. "Just so you know, the sandwich normally comes with cole slaw plus another side. Substitutions are not usually allowed. The waitress who took your order is new and didn't know", she replied. "That's probably why the kitchen was confused", she added.

    So this is now somehow our fault? It still doesn't explain how my wife received the wrong order - which didn't include the "normal" cole slaw side the waitress mentioned.

    Eventually, the waitress did bring out the correct side - after mentioning again, "For future reference, you get cole slaw and another side with your sandwich - just so you know."

    After our scolding, we quickly finished our meal and left.

    Something I learned long ago is never to approach fire with gasoline. Our waitress could certainly benefit from these words of wisdom.
  • Post #2 - June 12th, 2006, 7:12 am
    Post #2 - June 12th, 2006, 7:12 am Post #2 - June 12th, 2006, 7:12 am
    Ah, Wicker Park service! Clearly you're just not hip enough to eat there.
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  • Post #3 - June 12th, 2006, 7:59 am
    Post #3 - June 12th, 2006, 7:59 am Post #3 - June 12th, 2006, 7:59 am
    Just as a counter-point, I went the Handlebar with some friends a few weeks ago and had a great experience. The place was about half-full when we were there. The staff was friendly and prompt. I had the chili-cheese fries, which were what I look for in chili-cheese fires - rich and tasty. The chili had a nice kick. One of the individuals I was with had the black beans maduro. While I did not try it, he raved about it. As a beer geek, Handlebar makes me happy with their nice selection of craft brews, including Three Floyd's summer wheat, Gumballhead.

    The problem I have with most vegetarian meals that attempt to replicate a similar meat-based dish is how inferior they often are. The entire time I was eating this sandwich, I couldn't help but think how much better it would taste if were actual pulled pork instead.


    As a big meat, fan I have the same feelings about psuedo-meat, which is why I typically avoid meat-substitutes. It just ain't fair to compare a wheat-based facsmilie of meat to actual pork fat. Mr. pork fat will always win that battle.
  • Post #4 - June 12th, 2006, 9:03 am
    Post #4 - June 12th, 2006, 9:03 am Post #4 - June 12th, 2006, 9:03 am
    johnny wrote:For the unfamiliar, Handlebar is a ... popular hangout for bike messengers, dirty hippies, social outcasts

    :shock:
    my roommates who live 1 door up would be highly offended.

    <edit for clarity yet again>: i've never eaten at Handlebar, nor do I ever wish to eat at Handlebar, nor have I parked my non-fixie Bianchi at Handlebar, nor was I ever a student at artic.edu/columbia college/roosevelt university, and I shower everday.</edit>
    Last edited by TonyC on June 12th, 2006, 2:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #5 - June 12th, 2006, 11:57 am
    Post #5 - June 12th, 2006, 11:57 am Post #5 - June 12th, 2006, 11:57 am
    TonyC wrote:
    johnny wrote:For the unfamiliar, Handlebar is a ... popular hangout for bike messengers, dirty hippies, social outcasts

    :shock:
    my roommates who live 1 door up would be highly offended.


    No offense intended. At different points in my life, I've been all of the above. I'm sure you and your roomates will grow out of it. :wink:
  • Post #6 - June 12th, 2006, 1:54 pm
    Post #6 - June 12th, 2006, 1:54 pm Post #6 - June 12th, 2006, 1:54 pm
    johnny wrote:
    TonyC wrote:
    johnny wrote:For the unfamiliar, Handlebar is a ... popular hangout for bike messengers, dirty hippies, social outcasts

    :shock:
    my roommates who live 1 door up would be highly offended.


    No offense intended. At different points in my life, I've been all of the above. I'm sure you and your roomates will grow out of it. :wink:


    While I understand that your experience at Handlebar was less than stellar (I've never had a great experience there myself) your need to malign its customers takes away from the credibility of your review and, frankly, just makes you look like an ass.

    Critique of a restaurant and its policies is one thing. Slamming the restaurants patrons, who had nothing to do with your bad experience, is another.

    Next time I review a "boring old guy's" restaurant, I'll make sure to adequately mock YOUR social class as well.

    :roll:
  • Post #7 - June 12th, 2006, 2:09 pm
    Post #7 - June 12th, 2006, 2:09 pm Post #7 - June 12th, 2006, 2:09 pm
    Yeah, really. "Social outcasts?" Maybe per Roscoe Village standards, but bike messengers and assorted similar hipsters are pretty much the social norm around the Six Corners.

    Vegetarian food's not my favorite, so I've only eaten at the Handlebar a couple of times, and was never blown away, but I think it's a pretty good deal for the food you get, and it's a nice space to boot. Nothing in your interaction with the waitress seemed too inappropriate to me; I wouldn't take the cole slaw thing so personally.
  • Post #8 - June 12th, 2006, 2:11 pm
    Post #8 - June 12th, 2006, 2:11 pm Post #8 - June 12th, 2006, 2:11 pm
    My, my. I didn't know that dirty hippies had such fine feelings.

    I sense a double standard here. There are plenty of posts on this site that refer to "chads" and "trixies" in a mocking manner. I've always thought of myself as a trixie, and yes, some of the things you guys say make me cry. But I'm ok with it.

    This a great site with a wealth of colorful descriptions and useful information from average joes. Should we all be parsing our sentences so as not to offend anyone? What a shame.
  • Post #9 - June 12th, 2006, 2:20 pm
    Post #9 - June 12th, 2006, 2:20 pm Post #9 - June 12th, 2006, 2:20 pm
    Okay, we're about to have a Hippies vs. Trixies rumble here, so let's cut it out. Nelson Algren sailed up the Des Plaines river with Father Marquette to found Wicker Park as the kind of place it is today, let's treasure that and not get oversensitive or insensitive about it. Enough with that, how were the portions?
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  • Post #10 - June 12th, 2006, 2:29 pm
    Post #10 - June 12th, 2006, 2:29 pm Post #10 - June 12th, 2006, 2:29 pm
    Mike G wrote:Okay, we're about to have a Hippies vs. Trixies rumble here, so let's cut it out. Nelson Algren sailed up the Des Plaines river with Father Marquette to found Wicker Park as the kind of place it is today, let's treasure that and not get oversensitive or insensitive about it. Enough with that, how were the portions?


    Aww, man! Or should I say, "The Man." Yeah, you know who I mean, Gebert. So I guess now I have to delete my 1,000-word post-in-progress. No matter (*sniff*). I shall just go to my corner and feel oppressed. By the MAN. And furthermore, in respect thereof, I shall not pepper this post with the usual array of clarifying emoticons.
    JiLS
  • Post #11 - June 12th, 2006, 3:27 pm
    Post #11 - June 12th, 2006, 3:27 pm Post #11 - June 12th, 2006, 3:27 pm
    Mike G wrote:Okay, we're about to have a Hippies vs. Trixies rumble here, so let's cut it out.


    C'mon, Mike! Make just one exception, sell tickets and you can fund LTH's hosting fees for at least a decade :-)

    Or just trademark "Hippies vs. Trixies". That has to be at least as half as valuable as "Three-peat".

    Excuse me, my phone's ringing... I think it's Pat Riley.
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #12 - June 12th, 2006, 3:31 pm
    Post #12 - June 12th, 2006, 3:31 pm Post #12 - June 12th, 2006, 3:31 pm
    I AM The Man.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #13 - June 12th, 2006, 3:48 pm
    Post #13 - June 12th, 2006, 3:48 pm Post #13 - June 12th, 2006, 3:48 pm
    "Unfortunately, today's experience will likely be my last."

    I doubt your presence will be missed...
  • Post #14 - June 12th, 2006, 4:03 pm
    Post #14 - June 12th, 2006, 4:03 pm Post #14 - June 12th, 2006, 4:03 pm
    I doubt your presence will be missed...


    Maybe not him specifically, but perhaps the rest of us who otherwise might not stop by based on his post might eventually be missed. Unless you work there and remember him based on his "LTHForum Hi I'm Handlebar" tshirt or something. If that's the case, then maybe you're right.

    You work there or something?
    Writing about craft beer at GuysDrinkingBeer.com
    "You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now." ~Ebert
  • Post #15 - June 12th, 2006, 4:15 pm
    Post #15 - June 12th, 2006, 4:15 pm Post #15 - June 12th, 2006, 4:15 pm
    I pretty much have to say your experience differs from every experience I have had at Handlebar. This is one of the first places I visited after moving back to Chicago and eat/drink there at least once a week. No, I dont know anyone affiliated with the restaurant. I just find it to have a pretty good beer and food selection in a very unpretentious atmosphere, plus it really is pretty cheap. I would vote their french fries to be some of the best in the city. If you have never been, I would definitely suggest trying it out for yourself.
  • Post #16 - June 12th, 2006, 4:53 pm
    Post #16 - June 12th, 2006, 4:53 pm Post #16 - June 12th, 2006, 4:53 pm
    bananasandwiches wrote:While I understand that your experience at Handlebar was less than stellar (I've never had a great experience there myself) your need to malign its customers takes away from the credibility of your review and, frankly, just makes you look like an ass.

    Critique of a restaurant and its policies is one thing. Slamming the restaurants patrons, who had nothing to do with your bad experience, is another.

    Next time I review a "boring old guy's" restaurant, I'll make sure to adequately mock YOUR social class as well.

    :roll:


    Sorry you didn't understand that my description of the clientel was completely tongue-in-cheek, as opposed to foot-in-mouth. As I mentioned in my post, this was not my first visit to Handlebar. I was a semi-regular patron. I counted myself among the "bike messengers (how is that a derogatory term?), dirty hippies and social outcasts."
    Unfortunately, the ultimate "boring old guy" restaurant (Berghoff) recently closed so I can't challenge you to a duel at sundown.
  • Post #17 - June 12th, 2006, 4:56 pm
    Post #17 - June 12th, 2006, 4:56 pm Post #17 - June 12th, 2006, 4:56 pm
    Mike G wrote:Enough with that, how were the portions?


    Man, that BBQ saiten sandwich was as big as my old, boring head!! I only wish I could get Honey 1 to do the same with their pulled pork.
  • Post #18 - June 12th, 2006, 6:05 pm
    Post #18 - June 12th, 2006, 6:05 pm Post #18 - June 12th, 2006, 6:05 pm
    Mike G wrote:I AM The Man.


    The Man, indeed. And yet, somehow ineffectual. In a thread of 18 posts (counting this one), eight occurred before you blew the whistle and nine after. Nobody, with or without tennis shoes, seems to have gotten out of the pool. Bottom Line: You really need to work harder on the draconian authoritarian 'tude, Mike. You seem to have lost the respect of your people, and I'll tell you, instituting a laser-focused culture of fear, which I suspect is where you might be heading next, just won't work out. Not one bit.
    JiLS
  • Post #19 - June 12th, 2006, 6:45 pm
    Post #19 - June 12th, 2006, 6:45 pm Post #19 - June 12th, 2006, 6:45 pm
    Jim, the time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.

    If you want me, I'll be having bourbontinis and sakehattans in Roscoe Village.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #20 - June 14th, 2006, 3:50 pm
    Post #20 - June 14th, 2006, 3:50 pm Post #20 - June 14th, 2006, 3:50 pm
    whiskeybent wrote:
    I doubt your presence will be missed...


    Maybe not him specifically, but perhaps the rest of us who otherwise might not stop by based on his post might eventually be missed. Unless you work there and remember him based on his "LTHForum Hi I'm Handlebar" tshirt or something. If that's the case, then maybe you're right.

    You work there or something?


    No, but I am a patron and also long time member of the hospitality industry and from the sound of his review- he sounds like the assh*le patron who gets bent out of shape at the slightest mishap. He states that his previous experiences have been pleasant and that he did, eventually, get the correct side. So what the hell is the problem? I go there weekly and have never had good service- it just isn't the restaurant known for service. I always go in there knowing that it's gonna be a hour+ visit and don't expect anything less, although it's a pleasant suprise when it happens. If he is a regular patron, seriously, what does he expect?
  • Post #21 - June 14th, 2006, 3:56 pm
    Post #21 - June 14th, 2006, 3:56 pm Post #21 - June 14th, 2006, 3:56 pm
    VIPchef wrote:
    whiskeybent wrote:
    I doubt your presence will be missed...


    Maybe not him specifically, but perhaps the rest of us who otherwise might not stop by based on his post might eventually be missed. Unless you work there and remember him based on his "LTHForum Hi I'm Handlebar" tshirt or something. If that's the case, then maybe you're right.

    You work there or something?


    No, but I am a patron and also long time member of the hospitality industry and from the sound of his review- he sounds like the assh*le patron who gets bent out of shape at the slightest mishap. He states that his previous experiences have been pleasant and that he did, eventually, get the correct side. So what the hell is the problem? I go there weekly and have never had good service- it just isn't the restaurant known for service. I always go in there knowing that it's gonna be a hour+ visit and don't expect anything less, although it's a pleasant suprise when it happens. If he is a regular patron, seriously, what does he expect?


    Well, then count me in as an asshole patron as well. Sheesh...bad, pouty,
    dismissive service; that'd put me off my lunch. Since when did the food service industry get such a large chip on it's collective shoulder? All one needs to do is prowl through a few blogs worth of waiter rants to get the feeling something's not kosher in restaurantville.
    Being gauche rocks, stun the bourgeoisie
  • Post #22 - June 14th, 2006, 4:37 pm
    Post #22 - June 14th, 2006, 4:37 pm Post #22 - June 14th, 2006, 4:37 pm
    I go there weekly and have never had good service-

    Well, that's quite a recommendation.

    The food must be beyond great, all the way to absolutely amazing, to justify regular patronage with a service track record like that. Maybe it is--I haven't been there. It seems to me the problem that would be faced by a place that had merely good food and poor service is that there are so many places one can get good food and decent service. In Handlebar's case, probably on the very same block.
  • Post #23 - June 14th, 2006, 5:48 pm
    Post #23 - June 14th, 2006, 5:48 pm Post #23 - June 14th, 2006, 5:48 pm
    VIPchef,

    Please drop it back a couple of notches.

    Thanks,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #24 - June 15th, 2006, 10:08 am
    Post #24 - June 15th, 2006, 10:08 am Post #24 - June 15th, 2006, 10:08 am
    riddlemay wrote:It seems to me the problem that would be faced by a place that had merely good food and poor service is that there are so many places one can get good food and decent service. In Handlebar's case, probably on the very same block.


    You are correct.

    Sultan's Market
    2057 W. North Ave.
    Chicago
  • Post #25 - June 15th, 2006, 10:16 am
    Post #25 - June 15th, 2006, 10:16 am Post #25 - June 15th, 2006, 10:16 am
    johnny wrote:
    riddlemay wrote:It seems to me the problem that would be faced by a place that had merely good food and poor service is that there are so many places one can get good food and decent service. In Handlebar's case, probably on the very same block.


    You are correct.

    Sultan's Market
    2057 W. North Ave.
    Chicago


    Ouch. No. I admit to having not been to Handlebar, but Sultan's is certainly not a place to get good food and decent service. The food is pretty mediocre, the service is nonexistent.

    A statement about how bleh Sultan's food: I work two blocks away and will always trek twice as far to go to Babylon, instead. And this from a guy who is fundamentally lazy.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #26 - June 15th, 2006, 11:25 am
    Post #26 - June 15th, 2006, 11:25 am Post #26 - June 15th, 2006, 11:25 am
    I really want to like Handlebar - it's cooler than I am and therefore I can only aspire to be a regualr even though I live nearby - but my two experiences there were less than stellar, based on OK food and truly lackluster service.

    The first time, we went with our son, then age 2, for an early dinner. Only about 4 other people in the place (2 of them bike messengers sitting at the bar!). We both had food we recall as "decent" but what killed the meal was the outright disdain the server and bartender had for our kid. They did give us a high chair and seated us near the front. We ordered quickly and waited...and waited...and waited...for our food. A full 30 minutes went by before my salad arrived. At one point, my husband got up to let the little guy walk to the back patio (again, there were no other patrons inside, just the two on the patio and 2 at the bar), at which point our female server sneered and asked me if I had trouble controlling my son. Keep in mind, my husband and son were not in anyone's way, and were REALLY quiet, and simply walked back and forth for about 5 minutes. Once my salad arrived and they brought the kid's mac-and-cheese cup, we ate those. We finished. We waited again. Now, we're getting nervous. It's been over an hour and the server has literally disappeared. We're out of beer, the entrees are not even on the horizon, and we have a kid who is ready to either eat or play, but not sit motionless. Husband and son get up for a second session of walking, and this time the server asks them to have a seat, or at least please stay out of her path. What path?!? She had disappeared for the previous 20 minutes so any path was wide open!

    The entrees arrived approximately 70 minutes after we placed our order. We had selected specials - one vegetarian, one not. They were both fine, but as you can imagine at that point the food didn't matter. The server had no words of apology for her tone, no expression of concern about the delay, nothing. The bartender ignored us the entire time, talking with his two buddies. And it's hard to actively ignore the only other 3 people in the room when one is a kid trying to get your attention so he can smile and wave at you.

    We paid the bill that time and left.

    So then I tried again, this time with a friend and no kids. Same incredibly slow service, based on the type of food we ordered (though this time I think it was 30 minutes instead of 70). The food was OK, nothing spectacular, and although the beer selection was great, I felt sad that I couldn't appreciate a place some of my neighbors rave about.

    I'm writing this not so someone can write a nasty note back telling me I have too-high expectations for service, but only to defend the original poster and say he is NOT alone in his experience.
    "Whatever you are, be a good one." -Abraham Lincoln
  • Post #27 - June 15th, 2006, 11:37 am
    Post #27 - June 15th, 2006, 11:37 am Post #27 - June 15th, 2006, 11:37 am
    I just have to say, the idea of a snotty-attitude-bearing slow-service Vegan Wicker Park hotspot is making me chuckle to myself here.

    Do they do anything special for Satan's birthday?
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #28 - June 15th, 2006, 11:44 am
    Post #28 - June 15th, 2006, 11:44 am Post #28 - June 15th, 2006, 11:44 am
    Mike G wrote:I just have to say, the idea of a snotty-attitude-bearing slow-service Vegan Wicker Park hotspot is making me chuckle to myself here.



    Do they do anything special for Satan's birthday?


    perhaps you mean, Seitan? :roll:
    Being gauche rocks, stun the bourgeoisie
  • Post #29 - June 15th, 2006, 11:50 am
    Post #29 - June 15th, 2006, 11:50 am Post #29 - June 15th, 2006, 11:50 am
    Jeez, Mike, that seems rather inflammatory! I thought your job was to cool things down...

    You must not like spending time in Wicker Park much, huh? Aside from Filter (which I love) and Earwax (yuck) there are other places of the ilk you describe? Where? Leo's is gone now (sniff...) so I can't think of any others that match the description.
    "Whatever you are, be a good one." -Abraham Lincoln
  • Post #30 - June 15th, 2006, 11:52 am
    Post #30 - June 15th, 2006, 11:52 am Post #30 - June 15th, 2006, 11:52 am
    Mike G wrote:I just have to say, the idea of a snotty-attitude-bearing slow-service Vegan Wicker Park hotspot is making me chuckle to myself here.


    I remember when I was a kid and we were getting very slow service at a restaurant, my dad would say something like, "Guess they had to run down to the creek to catch your fish" or "The cook must've had trouble chasing down the chickens out back." What would he say at a vegan Wicker Park hotspot? "Must've had to ferment the seitan from scratch?" :?

    Mike, as far as attitude and slow service go, you realize as well as I that nobody working in a restaurant in Wicker Park is really a waitron. It's just how they pay the rent, man. Drop a checkbook conspicuously on the table, ask to see their portfolio, and then tell me if you don't see some hustle! OK, maybe not YOU (or I) specifically could do that, but it might work for somebody wearing the right silk turtleneck and espadrilles.
    JiLS

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