Nestled between an electronic repair store and a nail salon in Rogers Park, the only flashy parts of the Deuce are a few neon beer ads in the window and the red lettering on its black sign: “MARK II LOUNGE.”
But on Thursday nights the Deuce comes alive. Northwestern students in cabs and Ubers flood across the border between Evanston and Chicago and pack the Deuce to capacity, singing karaoke, eating free pizza and searching for a not-awkward-the-next-morning dance floor hookup.
There’s no denying that the Deuce is the Northwestern bar – even its address on N. Western Ave. is a match made in heaven. But how did some random bar all the way in Rogers Park become nearly synonymous with the Wildcat experience?
Beloved oatmeal cookies, a 4 a.m. closing time and $1.50 domestic beer specials are part of it. But the Mark II also has a long and interesting history with a strong family tradition.
In 1929, owner Tony Anton’s grandfather immigrated to Chicago from Psari, Greece, and in 1941 he bought four open lots on the block. The bar opened in one of those lots in 1958, after Anton’s uncle George returned from military service. The Mark II Lounge was named after his car, a Continental Mark II.
“He wrecked the car, hit a building and then he used the insurance money to build the bar,” Anton says. “And that’s how it all started.”
Anton’s mother, Steffani, says that running a bar “was where his heart was.” Eventually, George opened the Mark II Lounge and left Anton’s parents to take over.
Anton has worked at the lounge since he was 16 years old. After college, he worked various jobs before returning in 1996 to help his family modernize the bar by adding drafts and credit card machines. Northwestern students started coming in around that time.
In the late ‘90s, his whole family, including his parents and three younger sisters, all worked at the bar, and Northwestern patrons were growing in number. Now he considers Wildcats to be part of the Mark II’s extended family.
“I love the Northwestern students – I protect them,” Anton says. “This is probably the first bar that a lot of them come into, [so] if someone’s been overserved, I make sure they get home safely.”
For some Northwestern students, the Deuce has been more than just any bar. Anton particularly remembers Evan Eschmeyer, one of Northwestern’s best ever basketball players, as a regular at the lounge. Eschmeyer and his girlfriend became friends with Anton and his father.
“They played their song on the jukebox, and ultimately that was the song they played at their wedding,” Anton says.
In 2003, one Northwestern student asked him to take over the billiards mini course at Norris, and he taught the class for the next three years. Afterwards many of his students joined the leagues the lounge organizes.
Even though Anton now owns five other bars in the Chicagoland area and one in Pittsburgh, he says the Mark II Lounge is one of his favorite places. And more than 50 years after it opened, the Mark II is still mostly family run.
“My mom opens up. My dad closes,” Anton says. “We always have family here.”