The regular: Don Bender at Konak Pizza Bar & Grill
Konak Pizza & Grill 5150 N Clark St, 773-271-6688
Sitting on a stool at Konak, a popular Andersonville thespian hangout, actor Don Bender has the look of a seasoned performer: smart dress, maroon scarf, hair falling rakishly across his forehead. “I’ve been wearing this scarf since ’84,” Bender says. “My ex gave it to me because she was breaking up with me.”
When he points to his head shot—one of more than a hundred framed faces of Konak regulars adorning the wall behind our stools—I see a younger fellow resembling a contemporary Jesus, not the genteel man who just bought my drink. “I played a lot of bad guys in Shakespeare,” he says, explaining the long hair.
It was back in 1996 while rehearsing The Winter’s Tale with theater company Shakespeare’s Motley Crew that Bender’s artistic director first brought him to Konak. Then, it was little more than a hole in the wall serving Turkish cuisine, with cement floors and two beers on tap. “But the kitchen stayed open late and the drinks were cheap,” he says, “so we kept coming back.”
Today there are French doors, a bright blue interior and flat-screen TVs, but actors and crew continue to materialize for affordable late-night chow and camaraderie.
Bender says he’s fourth in tenure as far as Konak regulars go and doesn’t need to order “the usual”—bartenders start a pint of Berghoff the minute he walks in, and a wordless gesture resembling the Hawaiian “hang-loose” hand sign produces his other usual, Southern Comfort served neat.
The bar is “stagger distance” from home, so he pops in most nights after work. From a Konak stool, Bender watched Michael Jordan win his third NBA ring in ’93 and Obama take Ohio in the 2008 election. He tells me he’s turning 48 soon.
“Are you going to celebrate your birthday here?” I ask. But I already knew the answer.