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In Memorium – Marie Wuczynski, 1922 – 2011

Submitted by Tim on February 14, 2011 – 4:46 pmNo Comment

Most of us have our favorite dive.  It’s that bar where we take only our closest friends and only after the other bars have started closing.  It’s also the place with the unusual decor; the cob web riddled moose head with the Santa hat or a stuffed armadillo guarding a wheel of cheese that appears somewhat clean next to the Happy St. Patrick’s Day sign that’s been up since 1984, and so on.  It’s that place where you have done questionable things having arrived or left with someone you didn’t and still don’t know and can hardly remember.  Yet it’s also that place that kind of felt like a weird part of you.  And almost always, the one keeping watch over your dive and providing its biggest swash of color is its proprietor.  For the last fifty years, for many in the greater Chicago area, that bar has been the Riptide Lounge in Bucktown and that colorful proprietor was Marie Wuczynski.

Marie Wuczynski In Memorium – Marie Wuczynski, 1922 – 2011

Marie holding court

Marie spent years as a stay at home mom until she began working at the West Armitage Avenue bar that she eventually bought at the age of 39.  That was 1961.  Since then, Marie has been holding court at one of Chicago’s most infamous dives.  The grandmotherly women with a full cap of curly white hair is known for sharing shots of Jägermeister with a Pepsi chaser with her patrons.  Marie, along with Tina Congenie, her friend and long time co-worker, is also known for starting sing-alongs to whatever comes over the jukebox that most patrons don’t feel has seen much of an update since she bought the place.  Guests at the Riptide Lounge are serenaded nightly by the likes of Elvis, Tom Jones and Patsy Kline.

Accord to locals, while the neighborhood changed considerably over the years, from the working class Polish to gentrified urbanites, Marie and her Riptide Lounge didn’t change much.

“She just welcomed everybody even though she’s been here longer than some of these kids have been alive,” Congenie told the Chicago Tribune, “She knew the names and drinks of all the regulars and always did.  That’s just who she was.”

Known for her bawdy sense of humor, Marie also had a reputation for being feisty that commanded respect.  It was known that Marie didn’t suffer fools nor did she allow women, including herself, to be disrespected in her place.  There are even tales of her occasional flying elbows when the place got out of hand.

However, it was her throw back devil-may-care personality that kept the Riptide a popular spot.  Regulars have included numerous Chicagoland native sons such as Bill Murray and John Belushi.  Marie and her establishment have had songs written about them and both were even featured on episodes of Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Adherents say it was Marie that made her place stand out from other late night watering holes.  Whether it was her signing and dancing, sharing shots with guests well into her 80′s, her infamous five penny magic trick or  stories of the good old days told with a voice etched carefully during years of smoking Parliments, it was clear that Marie was a real character.

“Favorite Marie’s story — one fall night it was Daylight Savings Time, and Marie moved the clock hands herself backwards one hour at 2:00am — the place erupted in cheers, and we were all whooping it up…shots went around, beers were passed around, and ‘Strawberry Wine’ (Deana Carter) came on the jukebox, not like it was anyone’s favorite song, but the bartender: who everyone always thought was Marie’s daughter, but it turned out she wasn’t, sung along in this beautiful country-style voice, and we were all just happy and drinking and glad to be alive and well and living in Chicago (goofy grin).”  From Ingrid R.’s review of Marie’s Riptide Lounge on Yelp.

Though Marie’s Riptide Lounge may not be known for being the cleanest place in town and has Halloween and Christmas decorations that went up years ago but have never come down,  it is clear that both Marie and her watering hole are special.  A scroll through the Riptide’s Yelp reviews reveal polarizing takes on the joint with Marie’s supporters gallantly taking up her fight.  To summarize, if you don’t like this place then you just don’t get it.

Marie died of heart failure last Monday, February 7th, at her home upstairs from the establishment she owned for fifty years.

“She died with a smile on her face and holding my hand,” Congenie said.

Mrs. Wuczynski is survived by two daughters, Sharon Morrison and Debbie Pomazal, her six grandchildren and fifty years of grateful patrons.

Mass for Marie will be held tomorrow at 10 am, Tuesday February 15th, at St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church, 1850 N. Hermitage Ave, Chicago.

article clipper In Memorium – Marie Wuczynski, 1922 – 2011

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