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120 Degrees Ultra Lounge: A Fanny-Pack-Free Bar Near Navy Pier

It would be a strange existence to live in Lake Point Tower, I’ve always thought. I love admiring the gently curving building from vantage points along LSD, but imagine going home to it: What would you call that little slice of non-neighborhood?…

Inside 120 Degrees Ultra Lounge
An oasis in the cocktailing desert: 120 Degrees Ultra Lounge opened this month on the ground floor of Lake Point Tower. Browse more photos below.
 

It would be a strange existence to live in Lake Point Tower, I’ve always thought. I love admiring the gently curving building from vantage points along LSD, but imagine going home to it: What would you call that little slice of non-neighborhood? Pierville? There you are, out on a point, barricaded from the rest of civilization by a dozen double-decker lanes of traffic. Undiffused by any neighboring structure, the wind whips you through the door and howls up the elevator shafts, and, other than the oddly stuck-in-time Cité restaurant on the top floor, the closest place to pop out for a cocktail is Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

That last part, at least, has been addressed by the two-week-old 120 Degrees Ultra Lounge, a sleek little hangout on the ground floor that its owners are calling “the most easterly lounge in Chicago.” Also part of the lounge’s no-man’s-land allure is its 30-seat patio (open through October and beyond, weather permitting), from which one can sip champagne while beholding Navy Pier’s fireworks (every Saturday through October) in a fanny-pack-free environment.

The Creative Director and I decided to give the spot a whirl last night at about 10:30, on our way home from a friend’s Rosh Hashanah dinner that had left us nearly mute with fullness. We tried to pep ourselves up in the car by singing along to My Morning Jacket, and we were further revived by blasts of wind-advisory-level gusts as we walked toward LPT from a parking spot in Streeterville.

We heard a faint thrumming as we approached the door, and I braced myself for a full-on club scene. Inside, though, things were surprisingly chill. “Oh, it’s ultra small,” said TCD.

The music wasn’t loud at all, and a few groups of people were clustered at the bar—including one girl whom I stared at far too long, trying to figure out if she looked more like Kim or Kourtney Kardashian. There were groupings of low couches and chairs to our right, but barstools are better for eavesdropping, so we settled in and ordered a round. (This after a panicked moment in which I mistakenly thought bottle service was our only option, but no! Regular and specialty cocktails are served a la carte. Phew. Try the Rio, made with basil vodka, $12 and disarmingly refreshing.)

An animated bartender with a thick Eastern European accent was regaling the couple next to us with pronouncements about life. “When I was a kid, my mother was a real heep-ee, you know? I don’t see race. I really don’t,” he told them intensely. They nodded. As we listened, I rummaged a scrap of paper from the bottom of my purse and TCD drew a sketch of a jaunty little man.

“Are you writing a book?” asked the bartender, sliding towards us. He pushed over a votive. “Here, make it official.” The candle was one of those battery powered ones that’s supposed to look like the real thing except without, you know, the flame.

After a while, I surmised (more eavesdropping) that the willowy blonde in five-inch heels standing behind us was a partner in the lounge and its interior designer, Jordan Guide, whom I’d thoroughly Googled earlier in the day. Her design aesthetic is very bachelor pad—and trust me, if you’re a bachelor decorating your pad, she’s the kind of girl you’re secretly hoping to impress.

On our way out, I asked Guide how business has been so far. “It’s laid-back on Thursdays and Fridays,” she said. “Those are my favorite nights. On Saturdays at 11, that’s when everyone feels like it’s time to shine. We turn up the music, people start to dance, and suddenly everyone’s less shy.”

We started comparing notes on other bars we like in Chicago, and, hearing this, the bartender reappeared. “I’m not just saying this because she’s the boss,” he told us, “but I’m married nine years. I’m in my 30s. This is really, truly the kind of place I want to go, if I’m going to go out at all. It’s relaxing.” But in case we were looking to invest in nightlife, he had one final tip. “If you don’t want to go wrong, open a place like Public House,” he said, cringing. “It’s totally proletarian. It’s always packed because people can wear jeans.”

 

Photography: Steven Johnson

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