The American Writers Museum celebrates American writers through innovative, state-of-the-art exhibitions and compelling programming.
Just steps below the Magnificent Mile, you can find the Billy Goat Tavern. In addition to cheeseburgers and beer, the tavern has a past which includes a beard, a goat, a curse, and a Wall of Fame that pays tribute to some of Chicago’s best journalists.
In 1934 a Greek immigrant named Willy Sianis bought a tavern near what is now the United Center with a check for $205. It bounced, but that didn’t stop Sianis, who paid off the debt with his first weekend’s earnings. Soon after, a goat fell off a truck and wandered inside for a drink. It turns out he had a thirst for beer and Sianis took that as a sign. He kept the goat, grew his own goatee, became known as the “Billy Goat,” and the tavern got its name.
In 1944, Chicago hosted the Republican National Convention. When the tavern promoter put a sign saying “No Republicans Allowed” in the window of the bar, Billy Goat Tavern was soon packed with Republicans wanting a drink.
A year later the Cubs were beating the Detroit Tigers two games to one in the 1945 World Series when “Billy Goat” and his goat Murphy arrived with a pair of box seats for the game. Due to its unpleasant odor, Cubs management refused to let the goat stay, whereupon Sianis was said to have uttered the famous Curse of the Billy Goat, saying “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.”
For decades it seemed to work. Despite attempts to have “Billy Goat” remove the curse, it took 51 years for the Cubs to make it to the World Series again, finally winning the championship in 2016 after a 108-year drought, the longest in Major League Baseball.
The tavern’s reputation as a place for writers versus sports fans came about in 1964 with a move to its current location on Lower Michigan Avenue, below the Chicago Tribune’s Tribune Tower and the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News building across the street. Whether it was the “cheezeborgers” (immortalized by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live in the 1970’s) or the tavern’s proximity to the hard-drinking news people of the 1960s and beyond, the Billy Goat has been a hangout for Chicago reporters for more than 50 years.
Take a look at the Wall of Fame to the left of the "Enter at Your Own Risk" sign. There are photographs and news clippings from famous Chicago journalists like Studs Terkel, Irv Kupcinet, Rick Kogan and Richard Roeper. Pulitzer Prize winner Mike Royko, who often held court at the Billy Goat after work, has one of the largest displays, including a memorial written about “Billy Goat” Sianis after his death. Like Royko, who often wrote neighborhood stories about the little guy, the Billy Goat Tavern is a no-frills neighborhood place with its own story to tell.
The Billy Goat Tavern is open 6 am – 2 am daily.