De Ville’s Advocate

A cleaned-up dive scores points for keeping things casual

Bar De Ville 701 N. Damen Ave.; 312-929-2349
GO: Bar De Ville 701 N. Damen Ave.; 312-929-2349
 

The death of a dive bar is never an easy drink to swallow—especially when it’s replaced by a shiny new tap charging shiny new prices. Old-timers bemoan the loss of cheap beer; hipsters grumble about the mainstream moving in. Unless, that is, the new owners find a balance between gritty and generic, maintaining some color while losing the dust. Such is the case at Bar DeVille, a new-old dive from the ambitious nightlife duo Matt Eisler (Empire Liquors, Angels & Kings) and Kevin Heisner. The result is more faux-slumming than forgotten hole-in-the-wall, but it’s a niche that suits the Ukrainian Village crowd.

When the pair bought the building last occupied by La Manzanilla—the diviest of dives; no women in sight—they planned on keeping most of the grunge intact. But once they got their hands dirty, “We did what we do best,” Eisler says: tidying, primping, and generally giving the bar a cozier feel, thanks to a hodgepodge of great-looking vintage furniture, salvaged chandeliers, an old-school photo booth and pool table (free to play), and two of the nicest unisex bathrooms I’ve seen.

As for drinks, “We’re doing the handcrafted cocktails thing,” Eisler says—but don’t dare call it trendy. “What’s trendy about a margarita?” he asks. Nothing, except for how it fits into the cocktailing game plan: Each night, the guys spotlight a grand total of two drinks—on a recent visit, a dark and stormy and a pisco sour ($8 to $10)—although patrons can request off-the-menu orders from mixologist Bradley Bolt, formerly of craft-cocktailing central The Violet Hour. In a nod to the spot’s blue-collar roots, a juice glass of PBR is a buck, although locally brewed options and French and Belgian ales are available, and $3 cans are served in the backroom. On weekends DJs spin international soul and Southern rock from behind a converted church pew. “People can dance, but it’s not encouraged,” Eisler says. Now, that sounds like the dives we know and love.

 

Photography: Chris Guillen

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