Trackside at Joe’s Bar was one of two OTBs Mike Johnson visited in Chicago. (Photos by Mike Johnson)
The horse racing bug enters hibernation occasionally, especially when subjected to a harsh winter such as this year’s. Luckily, my home state of Illinois has developed one of, if not the best, OTB networks in the nation to keep that bug alive and kickin’.
Hold that thought. Some of you are now thinking: “OTB? What is that? Another cable TV station that I have to pay an extra fee to get?”
Not exactly, but there are televisions involved, many of them.
For starters, OTB stands for “Off-Track Betting.” These facilities offer simulcasts, wagering, and probably to many of yours' surprise, a lively ambiance.
I went to check out two OTBs in the Chicagoland area, Trackside at Joe’s Bar and Trackside at Crazy Pour, to scope out the scene and offer some pointers on how to maximize your experience at these venues. For those of you who have preconceived notion about OTBs in general, be warned, these are not your grandfather’s OTBs.
Trackside at Joe’s Bar
This spot is located on the North side of Chicago. Given the humble namesake, you may have visions of grainy television feed and stale peanuts. Think again.
The warehouse-style bar was recently renovated and houses 180 LED TVs.
I settled into one of their cozy U-shaped booths, ordered up a brew, and took my waitress’ recommendation to order the chopped brisket tacos. Delish!
GOOD FOOD AND GOOD BETTING OPPORTUNITIES, WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR?
When you walk in, all of the racing action airing on the TV screens can be a little overwhelming for a first-timer. It is tempting to start bouncing around from track to track. I suggest you arrive with a plan in mind to play only a few tracks and focus your energy on those cards.
Joe’s has been a staple on the Chicago bar scene for many years and herein lies the advantage OTBs have over advance-deposit wagering accounts. The locations offer the perfect casual environment to catch some races during your local track’s offseason. With all do respect to our dear friend Dan Tordjman’s online racing forum, it’s refreshing to get out and talk shop with fans face to face. There may be no better off-track location for this than Joe’s.
Also if you’re into country music, be sure to check out the lineup of big name artists that roll through to cap your day at Trackside Chicago.
Beer and horse racing are a match made in heaven. Santa Anita certainly believes this to be true, as do I.
Crazy Pour, a soon-to-be Western Suburb of Chicago staple, is the premier destination for Hop Heads (slang for beer fanatics) who are looking to play the ponies as well.
VISITING TRACKSIDE AT CRAZY POUR WAS A VERY PROFITABLE EXPERIENCE
For the refined palate, there is an absurd selection of craft brews available to sip on while you soak up racing from around the nation.
Stay tuned for America’s Best Racing events that will be hosted at these venues in the future!