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Marie's Rip Tide: A Chicago treasure

Marie Wuczynski, one in a million (Sun-Times photo)

Marie Wuczynski had a favorite number on the jukebox of the venerable Marie’s Rip Tide, 1745 W. Armitage.

She inherited the song when she bought the Bucktown bar in 1961. Mrs. Wuczynski died Monday of congestive heart failure in her home above the bar. She was 88.

Mrs. Wuczynski would often go to sleep after listening to number 120 on the juke. That song was “Melody of Love,” with 1940s era WGN all-night radio personality Franklyn MacCormack reading a poem with the Wayne King Orchestra playing a waltz. In his profound baritone MacCormack said:

…….“I love you not only for what you have made yourself/but for what you are making of me..

I love you because you are helping me to make the lumber of my life not a tavern, but a temple.”

And what a temple Marie’s Rip Tide became.

John Kennedy Jr. stopped into the Rip Tide before his George magazine party during the 1996 Democratic National Convention. He hung around for an hour, playing the vintage trap shoot machine that hung on the north wall.

The Rip Tide was used as part of the set of the TV series “Crime Story” and Conan O’Brien featured the Rip Tide in his NBC-TV era “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” In 1998 the Juleps with Cathy Richardson recorded the rock tribute “Marie’s Riptide.” The song made it on the Rip Tide jukebox along with the Bobby Darin, Patsy Cline and Frank Sinatra that attracted hipsters as the neighborhood gentrified.

The Chicago Code?

That was Mrs. Wuczynksi.

At age 23 she went to work as a welder, first at Chicago’s Schwin factory, and later welding airplanes during World War II. “I was a hell of a welder,” she told me in a 1997 conversation at the Rip Tide. “You gotta weld them solid.” Just like a Rip Tide cocktail. One of the first things Mrs Wuczynski did when she purchased the Rip Tide was to open up a diner in the room south of the bar. She wanted to feed the four shifts from the corrugated box factory across the street.

Mrs. Wuczynski was born in Chicago and attended Wells High School. Her father was a Polish-born laborer. Her mother was from Warsaw, Wis.

Her parents were strict and frugal.

“Remember the small Carnation milks?,” she asked me in 1997.

Well no, not really.

Mrs. Wuczynski went on. “When my Mom was living it was about nine cents a can. After she passed away, I’d buy Dad Carnation. That’s all he drank. By then it was 23 cents a can and he wouldn’t drink it because he felt it was too expensive. My daughter and I took nail polish remover and cotton and we’d erase the prices to make Grandpa happy.”

Mrs. Wuczynski bought the tavern in 1961 from the husband of her best friend, who had died in an auto accident. Her first bartending gig was at the Lucky Stop, a polka bar owned by her uncle near the corner of Wood and West Division streets. “The Lucky Stop Waltz” was popularlized by Chicago polka legend Lil’ Wally Jagiello and was another one of Mrs. Wuczynski’s favorite songs.

“I’m happy when other people are happy,” she once said over a shot of Jagermeister.

Ric Addy, owner of the popular Shake, Rattle and Read bookstore in Uptown was a Marie’s regular during the mid-1980s. Addy and his posse would hit the Rip Tide after DJing at the punk-inspired Artful Dodger in Wicker Park. “She did magic tricks for us,” Addy said. “She didn’t care who you were, how weird you dressed or how your hair was. Safety pins through your cheeks? It didn’t matter. She loved people.”

Mrs. Wuczynki loved telling jokes, like the true story about the drunk she encountered in 1961. The Rip Tide had a back screen door and a front screen door.

“I put the hook on the back door and he starts shaking it,” she recalled. “I told him he couldn’t come in because he was too drunk. He goes away. Then he starts shaking the front door. I said, ‘You heard me, you can’t come in here!’ He jumps back and says,

“How many ——-n’ taverns do you own?” And she laughed. Boy, did she laugh.

Mrs. Wuczynski was tough. She suffered a serious heart attack at the age of 73. Three years later she was seriously injured when a long time companion fell asleep at the wheel of a car and hit a guard rail outside of Milwaukee, Wis. He died at the scene. “She broke three vertebraes in her back,” her close friend Tina Congenie said on Wednesday. “They told her she would never be mobile again. She proved them wrong.”

Over the years the Rip Tide became known for its over-the-top seasonal decorations. The back bar was always adorned in a solid white cotton sheet. Cardboard cutouts and trimmings moved from Styrofaom balls for Easter and the red, white and blue of Independence Day.

“Valentine’s Day was her favorite,” Congenie said through tears. “She loved it when the sweethearts came in and when a guy would ask the girl to marry him on Valentine’s Day.”

The leaves never turned brown at the Rip Tide.

Mrs. Wuczynski is survived by daughters Sharon Morrrison and Debbie Polazam. Mrs. Wuczynski was preceded in death by her husband Michael Wuczynski.,

Photographs of Mrs. Wuczynski will hang on the walls for a Friday tribute at the Rip Tide. Her beloved Jagermeister with a back of Coca-Cola and a pack of Parliament cigarettes will be the centerpiece of a candlelit shrine. Visitation is 2-9 p.m. Sunday and Monday at Gogolinski-Trofimiuck Funeral Home, 1850 N. Wood. Services at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Mary’s of the Angels, 1850 N. Hermitage and burial follows at St. Adalbert, 6800 N. Milwaukee in Niles.