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15 Minutes with … Joey Vartanian

Who: Joey Vartanian, 43, Lincoln Park (“born and raised")
Job: Owner of CrobarMaxbar,  and Uberstein
Status: Single; father of a 9-year-old son. “I’m a better ex-husband than I ever was a husband,” he says. “Just ask my ex-wife.”

Joey Vartanian, nicknamed “The King,” got his start in the nightlife business at the ripe old age of 18. (“Yes, I used a fake I.D.,” he says) and, in 1982, became a managing partner at Octagon, a 3,000-square-foot dance club where Tin Lizzie now resides (2483 N. Clark St.). “There were no big clubs back then,” he says. “Just smaller new-wave neighborhood bars like Neo and Exit.”

VartanianTwenty years later, in 2002, Vartanian made a risky move by taking over ownership of Crobar (1543 N. Kingsbury St.), a decade-old club that had an established, loyal following already (including Dennis Rodman, a regular during the Bulls’ 1996-97 championship season). It was one of the most hyped re-openings the industry has ever seen. “We’ve reinvented ourselves, like, three times,” Vartanian says.

This Friday, March 30th, marks another milestone: Vartanian celebrates 25 years in the business with a party at Crobar (RSVP for free cover and entry to the cocktail reception by e-mailing chicagolist@crobar.com or calling Jake at 312-266-1900). “I only realized about five years ago that this is what I do for a living,” he says. “I always thought this was my part-time job.” Still, he takes his job seriously and serves as a mentor to a younger generation of club owners. The key to thriving in the industry, Vartanian says, is staying involved with the community: “I try not to stumble on my own ego. It’s a tough balance.”

1. What’s your drink?
  Patron chilled, chased with vodka.

2. Who’s your favorite person to drink with?
  There are four or five guys, all bar owners, who I drink with: Sammy Sanchez [John Barleycorn]; Adolfo Garcia [Grand Central, The Central, Bar Celona, and Union Park]; Kevin Killerman [Kincade’s, Kelsey’s, Casey Moran’s, O’Donovan’s, and Twisted Lizard]; my partner, Mike Matushka; and Chucky Faobuto - no one knows what he does.

3. What was the last book you read?
From Beirut to Jerusalem, The World is Flat, and The Devil in the White City. I hand that one out to people all the time.

4. What’s the last movie you saw?
Shooter. Marky Mark is looking good.

5. What’s your favorite restaurant or dish?
I crave Middle Eastern since I’m Armenian, but nobody does it right here. Topo Gigio is probably my favorite.

6. What do you love most about Chicago?
The diversity, the neighborhoods, the change in weather, the parks, the cleanliness. It’s a big city that’s still a small town.

7. In one sentence, describe what you do.
I run a lot of errands, put out a lot of fires, and entertain a lot of people.

8. Who should be the next president and why?
Hillary Clinton. A woman’s touch might be what we need.

10. When’s your bedtime?
I don’t sleep a lot. [My bedtime is] between 12 a.m. and 4 a.m., and I never sleep past 8:30 a.m.

11. Favorite brand of jeans?
Old-school Levi’s and True Religion’s Joey jean.

12. Favorite Chicago store?
Trend for Men.

13. Where do you get your local news?
Ron Magers. He’s the ultimate anchorman.

14. What’s your favorite brunch spot?
I’m a brunch freak. The Peninsula or East Bank.

15. What’s the best and/or worst part of the nightlife biz?
The people. The best is meeting them. The worst is seeing them at their worst.

Photo courtesy of Tyler Curtis/Darkroom Demons

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