Joe’s on Weed OTB: Meh
We’re not thrilled with this off-track betting parlor
Since Arlington Park’s Mud Bug, the beloved off-track betting parlor on Weed Street, closed this summer, gamblers looking for a horse-racing fix have had to make do with Joe’s on Weed, a sports and music bar across the street. The bar fills two essential needs for Chicago horseplayers: the need to play and something to bitch about.
That’s an important emotional outlet when you’ve just lost a trifecta because your third-place horse was disqualified. Mud Bug was a horseplayer hideaway where gamblers felt free to bellow obscenities at faraway jockeys and litter the floor with losing tickets. Joe’s on Weed is a stylish bar that serves brisket tacos and booked Rick Springfield.
I spend a Saturday at Joe’s with a friend I’ll call the Hipster Horseplayer. He rides his Schwinn cruiser from Humboldt Park, wearing an aqua cardigan and a thrift-store shirt. The Hipster Horseplayer doesn’t want me to use his name, or the name of the sloppy punk band for which he’s the drummer, because he’s able to spend three or four days a week playing the horses thanks to a disability check for being “cuckoo.”
As soon as I arrive, the Hipster starts bitching. Since it’s a college football Saturday, the horseplayers are confined to a room with the ambience of a currency exchange on payday: They feel overcrowded, desperate for money and afraid to piss off the management.
“I characterize this place as sardines,” he says. “It’s like an obstacle course to make a fuckin’ bet.”
Lately, the Hipster has been avoiding the OTB and riding Metra to Arlington. The cost evens out, because the OTB charges a 2.5 percent surcharge on winning bets. A horse that pays $10 to win at Arlington pays $9.80 on Weed Street.
“Even if you lose, you see pretty girls,” he says. “This is just fuckin’ scumbags, cabdrivers. I’m the only classy guy in here.”
There isn’t much interaction between football fans, dressed in the jerseys of their alma maters, and horseplayers, who are older, more ethnically diverse, and dressed in baggy polo shirts and Teamsters caps. Heading to the bar for grilled cheese, I bang knees with two Filipinos.
“You gotta admit the food here is better,” I say. “Eating at the Mud Bug was like eating at the bus station. They gave you American cheese on toasted white bread.” (At Joe’s, I got a cheddar and mozzarella sandwich and tomato basil soup on the side.)
“I don’t eat at the track,” the Hipster says. “I need the money for gambling.”
The Hipster takes his gambling motto from Damon Runyon—“the less you bet, the more you lose when you win”—wagering as much of his check as he can afford. He wins $414 on an 8-1 shot at Belmont Park in New York. Impressed, I give him $10 to invest in a Pick 4, a bet requiring a gambler to nail the winners of four consecutive races. The Hipster is on fire. Carroll Co. Kid comes in at 9-2. Tens Wild wins at 5-2. Sir Bluegrass pays a big 7-1.
Before the last race, the will-pay amounts flash on the overhead TVs. If Global Alliance wins, we get $1,796. If Can’t Stop Ravin comes in, $2,091.
“That’s huge!” the Hipster says. “That’s outrageous. I feel a photo finish in our future, Ted.”
The Hipster has been betting on speed. Our three winners led gate to wire. Can’t Stop Ravin is ahead three lengths on the backstretch but has no stamina and fades to seventh, while Global Alliance comes in sixth. There’s only one way to deal with a defeat like that.
“I don’t like the bathrooms here,” the Hipster says. “I like to pee in the stall. They only have one. Mud Bug gave you four options. I don’t like the soap dispensers, either. Should I go on?”
Put your money on the ponies at Joe’s on Weed, 940 W Weed St (312-337-3486).