‘Barbecue is in our blood:’ Legendary rib joint Twin Anchors celebrates 90 years in business
CHICAGO — A neighborhood anchor is an institution that enhances the quality of life and strengthens the cultural connections of a community. In Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, you could say there are twin anchors.
Gina Manrique is one of three siblings who co-own the restaurant and tavern, which is celebrating 90 years in business.
“We’re a big part of the fabric of the neighborhood,“ she said.
Twin Anchors is located at the corner of North Sedgwick and West Eugenie streets, where the grill continues to sizzle with the spot’s signature dish: baby back ribs.
When you enter the cozy spot, you’ll see wood-paneled walls, leather booths, a red and white checkered linoleum floor, and a long century-old wooden bar.
“I usually get two responses on what twin anchors looks like,” Mary Kay Tuzi, a co-owner, said. “It either looks like a Wisconsin bar, or my grandmother’s basement.”
Tuzi, Manrique and their brother Paul Tuzi inherited the restaurant from their parents, who purchased it 44 years ago.
“There was the possibility of buying Twin Anchors, which believe it or not they were actually having trouble selling,” Paul Tuzi said. “Or there was a Tastee-Freez on Roosevelt Road in Lombard, those were his two options. We are very grateful he chose Twin Anchors.”
The building’s history dates to the 1880s. The first tavern operated here during prohibition. It was known then as ‘Tante Lee’s Soft Drinks’ — a candy shop and soda fountain – that hid a speakeasy behind secret doors that still function today. “They would escape if the place was being raided,” Paul Tuzi said.
In 1932, the Walters family and Captain Herb Aldean, the harbormaster of Monroe Harbor, opened the restaurant, and the captain suggested a nautical name: Twin Anchors. However, the kitchen never specialized in seafood. It was always the ribs that stole the show.
“The ribs were introduced back in the 1930s from Mrs. Walter, she was the wife of the original owner,” Mary Kay Tuzi said. “She used to cook them upstairs in her kitchen because they lived up there. Eventually, they bought the building next door and turned that into a kitchen, and they started serving ribs and other items full-time. So, we have menus showing what the rib prices were originally and I believe it was $1.95 for a slab.”
Today, the ribs are still the most popular item on the menu, accounting for 70% of the restaurant’s orders. Twin Anchors sells about 1,500 pounds of ribs every week.
“There’s several different types of barbecue and ribs,” Manrique said. “But ours are the kind that falls off the bones. So, if that’s the kind that you like, then we’re definitely the place for you.”
It was the style that Frank Sinatra loved. “Old Blue Eyes” made Old Town a “must stop” whenever he was in Chicago. He had a standing order: “Ribs and keep ‘em coming,” according to the restaurant’s website.
“Sinatra put Twin Anchors on the map,” Mary Kay Tuzi said. “He turned Twin Anchors from just a little corner neighborhood tavern to a destination place. And that started in the early ‘50s and ‘60s.”
At the height of his fame, Sinatra would station a bodyguard at the restaurant’s pay phone.
“That bodyguard would prevent anybody from taking or making any phone calls because they didn’t want a whole bunch of people showing up and wanting to take his picture and pestering him while he was trying to have dinner,” Paul Tuzi said.
Twin Anchors also installed a private phone line for Sinatra.
“It was actually a phone jack, right to the left of the seat.” Paul Tuzi said. “He would sit in where we would plug in a phone for him where he could make or receive a phone call while he was here.”
Sinatra would leave a $100 tip for each person who worked his table from the server to the busser.
When Sinatra played Chicagofest at Navy Pier in 1982, he couldn’t make it to the restaurant, so he ordered ribs for his orchestra.
“We got a call from Frank Sinatra’s manager who said he wants the ribs for him and his band at Navy Pier, so we rented a grill, we brought down 60 slabs of ribs and fed Frank and his orchestra,” Mary Kay Tuzi said.
Celebrities like the late Chris Farley and Conan O’Brien made frequent stops at Twin Anchors.
Bonnie Hunt’s film “Return to Me” starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver filmed several scenes at Twin Anchors.
“The David Duchovny character meets the Minnie Driver character and their love story is the driving plot of the film, so they meet here and you can even see the ‘Positively No Dancing’ sign over Minnie Driver’s shoulder,” Paul Tuzi said.
The ‘Positively No Dancing sign’ was needed so servers could navigate the cozy quarters.
“Back in the raging days of disco in the late ‘70s early ‘80s, the jukebox used to be right here,” Paul Tuzi said. “People would play the jukebox, they world dance, and they would bump into the servers, who were carrying the ribs and it was a big mess.”
The Batman blockbuster “The Dark Knight” filmed a short but significant scene at Twin Anchors. The Harvey Dent character played by Aaron Eckhart slams a shot glass on the bar, and there are still marks in the wood.
“There are still the dents from Harvey Dent when he slammed his shot glass down on the bar before he flipped his coin and determined whether he was going to shoot the detective,” Manrique said.
Chicago’s Best filmed an episode at Twin Anchors. You can see it in the video player below.
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