The Minor Arcana, Prospect Heights’ eclectically-decorated neighborhood bar that prompted Yelp endorsements like, “The next time you want to black out, do it here,” and “A woman, a hot woman, came right up to Bill and started making out with him,” will close its doors this Saturday to make way for a desperately needed neighborhood sports bar. As the only establishment I feel comfortable wearing my $5 Urban Outfitters leopard-print Daisy Dukes to, my sense of loss cuts deep.
I was first introduced to the bar by a friend who, upon hearing I was moving to the area said, “We’ve got to take you to Minor Arcana – it’s a lot like college. Last time I was there, I just ran around wearing a hard hat.” With a brokester-friendly buy one, get one late night happy hour from midnight – 1am and disjointed skeletons hanging from the walls, it was better than college. The tarot cards handed out to swap in for a free drink with their seductive but ominous images of various goddesses came to symbolize the sort of black magic ambiance of the place. Over the past year, the bartenders became my best friends and Minor Arcana became (almost literally) my home. As summed up by one of the bartenders, Larry, “Minor helped me come out of my shell and become the real me. It was a second family that didn’t judge me at all and appreciated me for being me.” Fortunately, now you’ll be able to make connections in the dull glow of a 60-inch plasma flat screen.
All it took to be a regular was a relatively high tolerance and a disregard for regular sleep cycles. When I submitted my book manuscript at 2am after seven months of feverish writing, the staff was there to buy me shots and turn the accomplishment into a bar-wide twerk session. When I needed refuge from a sudden Sunday afternoon rain shower, Minor was there with a rum and coke at the ready before I even made it in the door. When a friend needed a use for some Playboy centerpieces from the 70s she’d come across, she was offered the chance to craft them into a smutty diorama to decorate the space beneath the glass bar top. When she presented her masterpiece the following week, the bartender tossed his least favorite diorama over his shoulder into the trash no sweat, replaced it, and rewarded her with a free drink.
In a neighborhood noted for brownstones and tree-lined streets, Minor provided a refuge from the highfalutin’ cocktail bars and steampunk-themed nerd bars (sorry, Dr. Who fans) scattered along Washington Avenue. Instead of paying a cover down the block to watch someone slowly strum a ukulele, passersby could show up at 1am and be ushered into a round of Truth or Jenga (Jenga with dares written on the blocks like “Take pants OFF”). Those games usually resulted in body shots, which usually resulted in people falling off the bar, but luckily they always managed to get right back up. It was a safe space to discuss whether the term “ratchet” is politically correct or wander in with a hula hoop and start twirling your hips. Or to kiss the boy you’d avoided eye contact with at all your friend’s loft parties because he was in front of you in the bathroom line and you knew you wouldn’t remember the next morning if he rejected you.
The stack of tarot cards from happy hour drinks unfulfilled perched on my windowsill now acts as a reminder that a true neighborhood bar is really hard to find. I doubt I’ll find another place so hypnotic that every time Brandy’s “Put It Down (Maybe We Can Fall In Love)” came on, even complete strangers sitting on the bench outside would be holding hands by the outro. In astrology, the Minor Arcana forms four cycles, two of which end positively and two of which end darkly, but its cycles are key to revealing the whole picture of the deck. The red walls of 706 Washington beckoned trysts and housed heartbreak but as another bartender Marcel, put it, “Minor always brought people together,” even if it took a little year-round mistletoe hung in the corner to do it.