Old Town Ale House

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Open since 1958, the Ale House has had plenty of time to develop character. It looks like the living room of an old woman who's cross-addicted to antiques and books. Japanese masks hang behind the bar and on the back wall is a giant papier-mache face that once graced the front of Figaro's, a defunct local bar. There's also a mural of regular customers, painted in the 1970s, and the ''Old Town Ale House Book Sharing Library,'' a case of paperbacks that patrons can borrow. ''You don't have to buy a drink,'' said a bartender named Sharon recently. ''You don't have to leave a book. Some guy came in here yesterday to leave a bunch of books. He said, 'I always take some.' People read everywhere in here. Nobody bothers you. It's not a meat market.'' The Ale House has the endorsement of the actor who played the most famous barfly in television history, George Wendt, who drank here . . . and the Ale House has his picture to prove it. (Wendt is second only to Jim Belushi in number of pictures displayed in Chicago bars and restaurants.)