'Best bartender in Chicago' retires after 34 years at the Billy Goat Tavern

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - He has served millions of drinks during a career that has spanned four decades, and there's a good chance he served one to you if you stopped by the Billy Goat Tavern.   

Now, a Chicago original is calling it quits. FOX 32's Dane Placko has the story of a man who many consider the city's best bartender.

A good bartender is more than just someone who pours a drink. They also have to be a philosopher, psychiatrist, comedian, conversationalist and friend.

In other words, they have to be like Jeff Magill, who has now retired after 34 years and countless memories.

In the dark subterranean of Lower Michigan Avenue, open the door to the Billy Goat Tavern and you'll find a friendly familiar face.

Meet Jeff Magill. He’s been bartending at the Billy Goat since 1981. But on Christmas Eve, he's hanging up his apron for good.

"I'm terribly flattered. This is my last day. And I've gotten a warm, wonderful expression of thanks for all the years I've spent here,” said Magill.

But as Magill's customers have learned, serving drinks is just part of the job.
"He knows everyone here. He knows what everyone wants. He's a good shoulder to cry on. He's a good guy to laugh and tell jokes to,” said customer Bill Pluta.

"He's always been there to talk to. Especially the regulars. He (is) kind of like your psychiatrist,” said customer B.J. Jorgensen.

And that makes sense, because McGill worked in psychiatry before taking the job at the Billy Goat.

"What I couldn't do working with patients in the hospital is I couldn't medicate. Of course here I can medicate,” Magill said. "People have decided that they like a third place in life. They have work and they have home. And they have value in stopping off and enjoying a little bit of good fellowship."

He added, "And for me, that's the greatest joy of this business, is you see true intimacy develop. People are very good to each other."

And also, "People will ask me sometime do you have a favorite? Tell us about somebody who stopped in. Who's your favorite? Abnd I say if I told you you probably wouldn't know. It may have been a guy who slept in a cardboard box out here. But I've met some wonderful guys of that description."

Now about to turn 66, Magill says the physical demands of the job are catching up. He’s ready to spend more time with his three adult children and grandchild, and his golf clubs.

The bar's owner says he'll be impossible to replace.

"He remembered everything. He remembered your name. He remembered your face and it showed what a great bartender he was for 34 years. So many people came the last few weeks to say bye,” said owner Bill Sianis

"There's a kind of suggestion, it's self-indulgent, that somehow my shoes are gonna be difficult to fill. They're not going to be. It's all created on this side. It continues to be, he'll do well,” Magill said.

"We're gonna miss the hell out of him. He's the best bartender in Chicago,” Pluta said.

Why retire on Christmas Eve? Magill told FOX 32 he was hoping his departure wouldn't be noticed amongst the hustle and bustle of the holiday. Obviously, that didn't work.