I’m not a native Chicagoan. I am a transplant from the great state of Ohio. A Buckeye who is proud to have lived a few blocks from The Ohio State University (emphasis on “the,” please), and who bleeds scarlet and gray. And I am a die-hard Cincinnati Reds fan. But for the sake of self-preservation, I can fake it as a Cubs fan. Yeah. The truth is out.
So, when I moved to Chicago, I wasn’t terribly excited about Da Bears, Da Cubs, Da Sox, or Marshall Field’s Christmas displays. I was way more excited to be part of the legacy of the Billy Goat Tavern—home of the Cheezeborger, Chips and Pepsi.
The Billy Goat was a Chicago tradition until 1978 when a Saturday Night Live skit sent the establishment to national fame.
White button downs, white aprons, and a cigarette
In the skit, early SNL cast members John Belushi, Dan Akyroyd, and Bill Murray worked at the Olympia Café. They wore short-sleeved, white button downs, manly white aprons with mustard stains, and, with cigarettes dangling from their mouths, they served burgers.
No matter what patrons ordered—tuna salad, grilled cheese, scrambled eggs, BBQ tofu on arugula—John Belushi cut them off. It didn’t matter what was on the menu. The Olympia was serving cheeseburgers. Make that cheezeborgers. With cheeps (not fries) and Pepsi. No Coke.
Belushi bossed his customers around, barking, “Don’t look at menu! Look at me! I order for you. Cheezeborger. Cheezeborger. Cheezeborger. Cheeps. Pepsi—no Coke.” No one dared defy him.
My first Cheezeborger
I wouldn’t go out of my way for a cheeseburger, especially if it’s topped with American cheese, which, face it, isn’t really cheese. But when my sister, Jan and her son Matt came to visit shortly after I moved here, a special trip into the city for my first cheezeborger was at the top of our list of things to do.
At the Billy Goat, We caught the live show of guys in their short-sleeved white shirts and manly white aprons (if there is such a thing), and flipping burgers on a grill behind the counter. These days fry cooks don't have cigarettes dangling from their lips, because smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants whether you’re a patron or a burger flipper.
Matt isn’t old enough to remember the famous SNL skit, but Jan and I won't forget. Just so we could say we'd been there/done that, we lingered over the famous Billy Goat Tavern delicacies—Cokes (Diet, of course), chips, and cheeseburgers.
Wait. Did I say cheeseburgers? I mean cheezeborgers.
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