When characters on “Chicago Fire” want to celebrate, commiserate or just plain hook up, they invariably head to the same place: Molly’s.
Firehouse 51’s favorite bar has been a fixture on the NBC series since season one, when scenes were shot on location at Lotties, a Bucktown pub at the corner of Cortland and Winchester.
Molly’s scenes moved to the show’s North Lawndale studio space during season two, when production designers built a recreation of the neighborhood tap on a soundstage at Cinespace Chicago.
The actors may no longer be at Lotties, but the show’s fans are.
“Every day we get people coming in, wanting to see what Molly’s looks like, take some pictures,” Lotties general manager Eddie Treacy said. “It’s been good for business.”
A bona fide sports bar that’s been slinging beers since 1934, Lotties isn’t the place to go if you want to watch “Chicago Fire” live on Tuesday nights. I headed there for the recent season three finale and only one of the 19 televisions was playing the NBC show — with closed captioning and no sound. The rest of the screens were tuned in to basketball, baseball and hockey games while speakers pumped out music. (The bar did offer a “Fire” special that night: $5 fireballs, a shot of a cinnamon-flavored whiskey; I passed.)
What Lotties lacks in the show-watching department it makes up for in authenticity — and reasonably priced drinks. This is the place to soak up some Molly’s ambiance and see the source of inspiration for “Fire’s” beloved bar. It’s as close as you can get to walking on set, which I had the chance to do last year. (A photo gallery from that Molly’s set visit is posted at the end.)
“It’s crazy accurate, except it doesn’t stink like old booze and beer,” actor David Eigenberg said during my tour of the “fake” Molly’s. Eigenberg plays Molly’s co-owner and firefighter Christopher Herrmann.
Reproducing Molly’s in the studio made financial and logistical sense given how often it’s featured on the series. The set is built in modular sections on wheels so camera crews can move it around to shoot the bar scenes.
“One of the things that attracted us to Lotties originally were these Christmas lights — the twinkle lights hanging from the ceiling,” production designer Craig Jackson said, adding that the cinematographer liked how they gave the joint a cozy feel.
Those lights still dangle overhead at Lotties, where plenty of Blackhawks memorabilia is proudly displayed like it is at Molly’s.
“The NHL has been very good with our show,” Jackson said.
The beer tapper at Lotties is twice as big as the one on set. The large size initially made filming tricky because it blocked the actors’ faces. The smaller one on set has a suds collection that includes Domaine DuPage from Two Brothers Brewing Co. in Warrenville, as well as a fictional “Milinac” brand in honor of special effects coordinator John Milinac.
The floor is solid pine, just like it is at Lotties.
“It was built with brand-new lumber, so this was all painstakingly aged,” art director Stephanie Gilliam said.
“The more we film here and the more it gets abused,” Jackson added, “the better and more authentic is looks.”
IF YOU GO: Lotties is in the Bucktown ‘hood at 1925 Cortland; (773) 489-0738, lottiespub.com. A Divvy bike station is a block away if you feel like pedaling to the pub. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday-Friday and until 3 a.m. Saturday. A Chicago Fire burger with crispy Tabasco onions, bacon, pepper jack cheese, giardiniera and spicy pickles is on the menu for $13, along with a big beer selection to wash it down.