Does bigger mean better? When it comes to the new 36,000-square-foot maze of a bowling alley/pool hall/sports bar/wine lounge that is Lucky Strike Lanes (322 E. Illinois St.), on the second floor of the AMC River East 21, it does. Don’t let the name confuse you: the original Lucky Strike (2747 N. Lincoln Ave.) agreed to sell its ten-year-old moniker to the Hollywood chain and get a new one. (In a clever marketing ploy, it held a contest to come up with a new name. The winning entry: “Seven Ten Lounge.”)
So far the only things these two bowling alleys have in common are the bowling pins I received as invites-one to announce the opening and one to announce a name-changing party. Lucky Strike, the new, flashier spot, is so overwhelming in scale, it’s easy to lose the party you came in with amid the multitude of entertainment options-18 bowling lanes, 11 tournament-size pool tables, 22 plasma TVs, a state-of-the-art sports scoreboard, video monitors, and five fireplaces in the cozy back wine bar.
The menu-which was created with help from Along Came Mary, an L.A.–based event production company that caters many Hollywood movie premières-is several notches above greasy bar food.
On the other hand, the spotty service almost had us eating our spiffy bowling shoes in between matches. But if the popularity of the original Lucky Strike Lanes in Tinseltown is any indication-Jared Leto and Ashley Olsen, Chris Rock, and even Rob Reiner have been spotted at that one recently-the Chicago outpost, the chain’s tenth and largest, will compete against its local counterparts. Of course, bigger also means pricier: on a Friday or Saturday night past 9 p.m., you’ll drop $65 an hour for a lane, $14 an hour for a pool table.
John Dalton, 28, has his creative finger on Boystown’s pulse. As a former bartender and manager at Roscoe’s for five years, his first owned venture is Minibar (3341 N. Halsted St.)-an 1,100-square-foot hotel lobby bar minus the hotel. But Dalton and his business partner, Stu Zirin, 47, are taking the concept a step further than Hubie Greenwald’s Motel. “We’re offering concierge services-like getting people reservations at area restaurants and tickets to Bailiwick Theatre shows-helping the community out,” Dalton says. “We’ll even offer coats and umbrellas-we want to be a full-service lobby.” Something else that sets Minibar apart from most other bars in Chicago is a no-smoking policy-though smokers likely will be welcome to puff outside under an awning that’s heated in cold weather. Cocktails are also a key focus. “We’ll be infusing our own vodkas, like with jalapeño peppers and pineapple juice,” Dalton explains. The design is equally inventive: a standout is the state-of-the-art back wall behind the bar covered in Venetian glass beads, and a huge plasma two-way-mirror TV.
At the opening party for Lucky Strike Lanes, I ran into Geoff Stults, who was in town filming The Break Up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn (Stults plays Aniston’s boyfriend in the film). When I asked if his costars were in fact an item, he replied, “I asked on behalf of my mom-and they both laughed, like, Are you retarded?” Stults also appeared in The Wedding Crashers with Vaughn. “I can’t keep from laughing on the set from Vince-he’s always joking around,” he told me, adding, “Vince gets Cubs tickets for me.” Ahh, the perks of celebritydom. Later that night, Stults met up with me at Reserve. . . . Charlize Theron and Goldie Hawn both dined at Japonais on the same night in September, with separate parties. Hawn was with friends and had cocktails on the riverwalk, while Theron, in town to appear on “Oprah,” stayed upstairs and enjoyed chef’s specials with guests.