Most people associate the term "dive bar" with a casual sort of neighborhood watering hole where residents gather to throw back a few and socialize.
However, Boystown's Dive Bar ( 3445 N. Halsted St.; chicagodivebar.com/ ) is a nautical-themed restaurant ( get it? ) that specializes primarily in seafood. And, yes, it's complete with decor items ranging from punny signs to portholes.
For example, the most recent part of John Dalton and Stu Zirin's burgeoning empire ( along with D.S. Tequila, minibar and two mEAT restaurants ) has boomboom shrimp ( crispy, breaded and tossed in a creamy, spicy sauce ), coconut shrimp, salt-and-pepper shrimp, lump crab cakes, black bean clams, crab fingers, tuna nachos and fish bites alone in its "Share" section.
The motto is "Eat like a captain; drink like a fish" for a reason. There's also an impressive list of drinks with mostly punny tie-ins to the restaurant. For instance, you can try the Walking the Plank ( Cruzan mango rum, Vizcaya dark rum, Bitter Truth apricot liquor, orange juice and lime juice ), the Blue Marlin ( Hendrick's gin, limoncello, pineapple juice, lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda ) or one of the other $13 ( ! ) drinks. ( Note: Dalton defended the cost, saying it's actually a value because the drinks have double the amount of alcohol a similarly sized drink would have elsewhere. I don't doubt that after sampling the tasty Painkiller. ) There are also wines, mojitos, beer and "Smokin' Shots" ( complete with dry ice ) available.
My friend and I tried a variety of dishes. The lump crab cakes were solid performers, helped by the emphasis being on crabmeat and not batter. The tuna nachos are topped with an aioli that definitely had a kickone that almost, but not quite, overtook the rest of the dish. The highest platitudes for the evening went to a rich, tasty lobster bisque.
We also tried the fried chicken ( "for landlubbers," Dalton said ). The chicken ( available as two-, four- and eight-piece options ) takes 48 hours to prepare, involving a process that incorporates brining, soaking in buttermilk, baking and flash-frying. The result is like the rest of the menu: solid. The chicken is definitely not bad, but it lacks the "wow" factor. ( As a point of comparison, I put this up against Chef Art Smith's fried chicken at Table fifty-two. My friend and I both agreed that Dive Bar's chicken, although good, was not quite on the same level. ) The desserts ( a key lime pie and an iceberg-sized slice of chocolate peanut-butter ice-cream pie ) were alsoyou guessed itgood.
Dive Bar only opened Jan. 22, but Dalton and Zirin have big plans for the place, which Dalton described as "more tropical than tiki." Among the events that are slated to happen are having themes such as "Mussel Mondays" and CANs ( Customer Appreciation Nights ); serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week; and even turning the site on Fridays and Saturdays into an "island-techno fun space."
The restaurant is definitely unique; my dining companion pointed out that there are really no other seafood restaurants in the immediate Boystown area. This nautical-themed eatery is definitely steps ahead of a restaurant like Long John Silver's ( which some people on Yelp have compared it to ). Patrons will certainly have a satisfying experience at Dive Bar; it's just that the fare doesn't represent a "sea change" in cuisine.