Thursday night marked the reopening of Le Passage, which changed hands a few months ago when it parted from the Billy Dec brood and joined Three Headed Productions, a.k.a. the masterminds behind Cans, Salud, Junior’s Sports Lounge, and EvilOlive. Under Dec and Brad Young, Le Passage served as River North’s go-to late-night spot for the last seven years, but the business partners sold their share earlier this year to focus on their other haunts, including Rockit, The Underground, and an Asian-influenced restaurant slated to open next year.
The Three Headed Guys (Matt Lindner, Jay Runnfeldt, and Tommy Wang) are no nightlife rookies, but Le Passage marks their first high-end establishment. And since they’ve been working on the spot’s rebirth for the last year or so, including three months of renovations, the preopening buzz had reached a fever pitch.
The new incarnation has been split into two parts: Le Passage, or what they’re calling the “discotheque,” and the Drawing Room, “a culinary cocktail lounge” helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Shawn McClain (Spring, Green Zebra, Custom House). For the drink menu, the owners consulted a panel of master mixologists, each with eight to ten years of experience.
Walking down the alley (i.e., the “passage") toward the discotheque gave me flashbacks: some good, some too hazy to fully recall. Inside, the front area of the club looks a lot like the old Passage, save for the dated red velvet couches, which are now mink brown. The gilded columns remain, but they’ve been updated and tiled, and the back cocktail lounge, formerly the Yow Bar, is now draped in white curtains, and outfitted with low-slung tables and modern crystal chandeliers. Gone is the French flair in favor of a more contemporary look; Hughes N’Cho-Allepot helmed the design, with input from the marketing agency All Terrain, mixing natural materials (zebra wood, marble) for a peaceful, earthy effect. Most of the redo efforts seem to have been focused on what’s now the Drawing Room, which is meant to imitate the social-hour setting of an actual drawing room. Still in the works is a separate entrance off Rush Street, which will allow patrons to bypass the discotheque—and its requisite long walk down the alley.
Another new addition: carts that serve as mobile bars. Think guacamole made tableside—except here it’s the drinks that are mixed and muddled on the spot. I’m torn on the concept: The carts make navigating the back room a challenge since you’re almost always in someone’s way unless you’re sitting down. Plus, the carts get stocked with ingredients and wheeled out once you’ve ordered your cocktail, so prep time can run long before the actual drink-making even begins. (For the truly thirsty, there’s a bar in back.) Also worth noting: Almost all of the specialty cocktails are made with egg, which acts as an emulcifier and adds a foamy head; “[It stays] that way for an hour,” director of operations Kim Bosse told me—not that I expect any full glasses will sit around that long. But bonus points for taking cocktailing seriously.
In general, I don’t think “clubsteraunts” really work, so it will be interesting to see if the Three Headed boys can pull it off. They’ve had great success with neighborhood sports bars, but the Le Passage/Drawing Room hybrid is a different beast altogether. Will clubgoers care that a fancy chef planned the menu? Will foodies want to mess with the hassle of a 4 a.m. club? It all remains to be seen. Le Passage holds its public grand reopening tonight, Friday the 9th. Check it out and post your comments below. To reserve seating in the Drawing Room (open 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday), call 312-255-0022.
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Elsewhere last night, MisShapes was DJing at The Underground. For the uninitiated, MisShapes is a New York-based DJ trio that quickly gained media-darling status after forming in 2002 and launching weekly parties at the SoHo hot spot Don Hill’s. Even Madonna and Yoko Ono are fans.
I wanted to see what all the hype was about, so I stopped by Thursday around midnight. When we arrived, not a single person was waiting outside to get in; a regular Thursday night with a local DJ sees bigger crowds. I guess Chicago just hasn’t been in on the buzz. Inside, it was easy to spot the true fans, most of whom were congregated around the DJ booth, where a dancer gyrated above the crowd. It was almost an even split down the middle of the club: boring Chicagoans over here, Ray Ban-wearing NYC hipsters over there. (Well, to be fair, Ray Ban was one of the evening’s sponsors.)
The MisShapes are as much fashion trendsetters as they are musicians. With their modish style, black hair, and waify physiques, they’re practically the reason skinny jeans were invented. Leigh Lezark, Geordon Nicol, and Greg Krelenstein are so hip you need a new word for hip. The trio’s sound—not that it seemed to matter much to last night’s crowd—is something like electro-dance-new-wave-punk. “I don’t think they’re jealous of DJ AM,” their manager said when I asked if they command the same kind of dough some celebrity spinners get these days. But they’ve got their fingers in plenty of pies; the group just released a book of photographs, appropriately titled MisShapes, featuring hundreds of photos taken at past parties. Hey, maybe it’s a New York thing.
Photography: Sarah Preston