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The Boston Globe

Sports

Tripoli Tap a Boston sports sanctuary in Chicago

CHICAGO — Red Sox and Bruins banners proudly flew over the doorway of Nic and Dino’s Tripoli Tap.

A neon sign in the front window promoted Sam Adams as the preferred beverage of its patrons. And the paneled walls were festooned with Boston sports memorabilia, all of which was donated by friends, family, and loyal customers.

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Co-owned by Steve Nicoli, 48, and Dean Zanella, 47, friends from Framingham, Mass., the Tripoli Tap is a Windy City watering hole that could just as easily rub shoulders with any Boston establishment in the Fens or on Causeway Street.

With the Bruins in town to play the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, it’s been the best of both worlds for the Boston sports-crazed customers of the Tripoli Tap.

“With the Blackhawks being in the West and the Bruins being in the East, it’s not a natural rivalry,’’ Nicoli said. “It’s not like if it were the Canadiens, but it’s an Original Six matchup and it’s a lot of fun. It’s the best of both worlds for us.

“Like we always say, ‘Let’s just make sure it goes seven, and the Bruins win it.’ That would be awesome.’’

The Tripoli’s opening in 2004 was rooted in a seismic sports event in Boston — the Red Sox’ long-awaited World Series triumph.

When Nicoli and Zanella opened the doors of their Lincoln Park establishment at 1147 West Armitage Avenue, the Tripoli Tap grew to gain an identity as a sports sanctuary of sorts for transplanted Bostonians and New Englanders in search of a bit of the Hub in the Windy City.

Of course, it helped that the high-definition TVs in the Tripoli were tuned to the Sox during their run to the World Series.

“It was amazing, because we opened it up to do a Boston thing,’’ said Nicoli, who came to the Midwest some 28 years ago and wound up staying here after attending Lake Forest (Ill.) College, where he played soccer, and began tending and managing a bar with Zanella at another West Armitage Avenue pub.

“It was called ‘The Store’ and it became known as a Boston bar, because Nic and I worked behind the bar there,’’ said Zanella, whose brother is married to former Sox player Lou Merloni’s sister. “We always tried to get the owner to put the Pats on the TV on Sundays and he would put it on one of the TVs in the back room, so it became the ‘Pats Club.’ ’’

Soon, a steady stream of customers would come to the bar to watch the Patriots, to the point that the Bears began to get squeezed out from view.

When the Tap opened its doors, it offered not only Sam Adams at the bar, but Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics as its viewing choices.

“Everybody tries grass roots, and that never works, but this was grass roots,’’ Zanella said, explaining the bar’s sudden popularity as a haven for transplanted — and visiting — Boston sports junkies. “This was actually grass roots. We started out, and people started calling and calling and the next thing we knew we were mentioned on some website and I had never even heard of ‘The Sons of Sam Horn’ before we opened this bar.’’

Boston sports fans have beaten a path to the Tripoli Tap, and with the Bruins in town, Spoked Believers have trekked to the tavern. “We were here until 3 in the morning after Game 1,’’ Nicoli said. Two days later, Nicoli was visited by Bruins reporter Naoko Funayama and a photographer and was featured on a NESN piece that drew a loud roar in the bar when it ran Friday night.

Among those who roared the loudest was Terri Koerner, an outgoing hostess who was one of Tripoli’s first employees, and was spotted wearing a Blackhawks blouse on the NESN feature.

“Hey, if they weren’t playing the Blackhawks, I’d be wearing a Bruins jersey,’’ she said.

Koerner, a native of Queens, N.Y., who has lived in Chicago for 15 years, did nothing to hide the fact she is a huge New York Yankees fan and an even bigger fan of Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “He’s hot,’’ Koerner said, fanning herself.

Hotter than Derek Jeter? “I wouldn’t go that far,’’ she said.

Just as many Boston establishments, the Tripoli Tap has ridden the wave of excitement generated by the championship runs the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics have made in the last dozen years.

“Throw in the White Sox [winning the World Series] in 2005 and the Blackhawks [winning the Stanley Cup] in 2010, and it’s been great,’’ Nicoli said. “We’ve been real lucky. The only thing I always get mad about is when I think about my younger relatives in the Framingham area who think the last 12-15 years is how Boston sports has been forever.

“They’re 20 years old now and they’re like, ‘Well, I grew up with Tom Brady.’ Well, we grew up with ‘Champagne’ Tony Eason and a host of other sorts. So, it was a long haul. When I was a kid, I listened to Gil Santos, because they could never sell out Schaeffer Stadium — or Sullivan Stadium, whatever they call it — so it’s been a long haul and it’s been fun. And I think, as they say, we can all die now happy.

“But one more Bruins championship, though, would be nice.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.
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