How Seahawks fans find community at a Chicago sports bar

By Leah Vann
Medill Reports

Fans packed the Brownstone Tavern & Grill in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood for the Seattle Seahawks vs. the Green Bay Packers game in the NFC Divisional playoff.

While the Seahawks lost their NFC Divisional game to the Green Bay Packers 28-23, their Chicago-area fans shared with me the story of how they’ve created a community home far from home.

The Brownstone Tavern & Grill on Lincoln Avenue is “standing-room only,”  when I arrive. It’s more spacious than the Toons Bar & Grill, the Kansas Chiefs’ North Side bar on Southport Avenue.

Brownstone owner Adam Sherman has been hosting Seattle Seahawks fans at his bars since 2013. The group started at Newport Bar & Grill that Sherman ran, but when the lease was up in 2016, he moved to what is now Brownstone Tavern & Grill.

Sherman was approached by Jaron Berstein, who started the Chicago-based Seahawks Facebook page, “Hawks Nest” in 2013. Berstein had gathered a small group of people who were all looking for a place to watch Seahawks games. One of those people, Shawnda Tharps, took over as admin of the Facebook page just a few months into the 2013 season when Berstein moved back to Seattle.

“Having only lived here for a couple of months, I couldn’t imagine that … I would be helping run a group,” Tharps said. “When you move somewhere and you don’t have friends and you don’t know people, right away having people who not only embrace you, but they’re from where you’re from, it was huge. Like, you’re going to make it here.”

The Facebook page has 211 members, including some who live in Seattle, but occasionally visit from out of town. Tharps estimates that 80-100 Seahawks fans come to the bar every week. When the group originally started, Tharps and the rest of the founders had to convince Sherman that they could bring a good turnout.

“We had cards made up and would keep cards in our purses and wallets so if you work with somebody or find people on the bus from Seattle we would tell them to come,” Tharps said. “We did the basic word of mouth spreading it to people.”

As the owner, Sherman wanted to create a community atmosphere that felt like home.

When people were first coming to watch parties, he found reservations came in groups of three, and he’d combine the three-person reservations at six-person tables to help people make friends from Seattle.

“Tables are customizable setups, when you’re forced to sit across the table with people, it’s a lot easier to socialize and make friends,” Sherman said.

In addition, he ordered Seattle beers such as Redhook and Elysian. At Brownstone, he added pictures of the Seattle skyline with the number 12 on it for the 12th man Seahawks tradition.

As the community grew at the bar, friendships blossomed. It’s how Natalie Fouty and Crystal Smith became best friends.

Fouty is a Seattle native and has been coming to Brownstone Bar for three years. It’s a place that keeps her homesickness at bay.

“I came to Chicago for college and I never left,” Fouty said. “But I want to move back to Seattle every day, I love the city itself and the mountains and the ocean. I was raised on football, my dad coached all my life and my brother played it, my uncle was the quarterback for the Washington Huskies.”

Here she met Crystal Smith, who is dressed head-to-toe in Seahawks gear. Smith wears a Seahawks jacket, sparkly Seahawks sneakers, Seahawks hat, a Steve Largent jersey and blue and neon green feather earrings.

Crystal Smith wears a Steve Largent jersey as she watches the Seattle Seahawks take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoff on Sunday, Jan. 12. Smith comes to Brownstone Tavern & Grill every Sunday. (Leah Vann/MEDILL)

“I got two free tickets to the game at Lambeau three years ago and I didn’t know any girls yet,” Smith said. “I had her number my phone for some reason so I called her so we didn’t really even know each other. And then we drove out to Lambeau.”

Smith stumbled upon the original Seahawks bar by accident, walking down the street looking for a place that had the score. She joined the Facebook group and kept coming back.

“I don’t actually love Seattle, I don’t want to move back there,” Smith said. “But I think once you move, that’s your thing, so you always look for the Seahawks bar.”

It’s become Sherman’s community too. As a Chicago native, he now cheers for the Seahawks.

“Chicago is a very transient city,” Sherman said. “It’s nice to have a melting pot of personalities to be able to draw from. It makes the business more fun.”

Photo at top: Natalie Fouty, left, and Crystal Smith watch the Seattle Seahawks at Brownstone Tavern & Grill. (James Beickert/MEDILL)