The name is a mouthful but says it all: The 44th Ward Dinner Party is a place to grab dinner, then party. Or party, then dine, since the basic version of the spot’s specialty, grilled cheese, is just a buck after midnight.
It’s a new, relatively recession-friendly concept for an address that has long catered to nightlifers. In January, Jason Merz and Angels & Kings honchos Stephen Westman and Nicholas Scimeca set about revamping the graystone formerly occupied by Westman and Merz’s Lakeview Broadcasting Company. (Like LBC before it, “The Ward,” as the owners call it, is in Boystown but isn’t expressly a gay bar.)
The owners didn’t sacrifice style. The newly Victorian vibe—settees that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in your great-great-grandmother’s parlor, intricate antique-y wallpaper—sets a striking stage for a place to drink grown-up cocktails while munching on every kid-at-heart’s favorite sandwich. The grilled cheese comes in signature concoctions (in a nod to the ’hood, the Market Days pairs mozzarella, roasted Roma tomatoes, and basil on tomato focaccia; $8), or diners can create their own combos—pretzel bun or Wonder Bread? bleu cheese or chèvre?—for $5 before midnight.
Where the sandwiches are playful, the cocktails are serious. “It’s a beautiful kind of old-lady home you might find on a side street in Evanston, and it wouldn’t make sense to have frothy drinks,” says Westman of the stiff classics; think Lynchburg Lemonades, authentic Manhattans, and Rob Roys ($8-$9). Before 10 p.m., the music harks back, although not as far as the 1800s (Steely Dan, The Jackson 5); after 10 p.m., DJ White Shadow fast-forwards the playlist to contemporary hits. “We know what we are,” says Westman: a place for dancing but not a club, “a comfortable atmosphere where you’re going to binge eat and binge drink.” Great-Great-Grandma might not have approved. Good thing The Ward only looks like her house.
GO: 44th WARD DINNER PARTY3542 N. Halsted St. the44thward.com
photograph: Chris Guillen