(above and below) Old Oak Tap
You know a neighborhood has moved past edgy and settled squarely in the mainstream when its bar-goers are more hip than hipster: There’s a reason West Town is hailed, somewhat mockingly, as the new Wicker Park. Old Oak Tap (2109 W. Chicago Ave.)—from Chris and Susan Ongkiko, who launched the original, cutting-edge Lava Lounge and still own the tattooed set’s go-to late-night bar, The Continental (2801 W. Chicago Ave.)—isn’t doing much to change that rep.
Old Oak Tap marks a complete 180 from the couple’s earlier, grittier endeavors: “I wanted somewhere to have a beer and bar food that wasn’t dipped in a fryer,” says Chris, 36 and the father of a one-year-old. Hence the hiring of John Manion (Mas, Relax), whose menu—fish tacos, sautéed tilapia, grilled Gruyère on French bread—barely resembles your average bar fare. Maybe we’re growing up as fast as the area, because we ate it all up: the unintimidating vibe; the gussied-up food; a noise level that allows for actual conversation; the opportunity to drink our beers without getting an elbow in the back.
When the bar opened in late August, the 1,500-square-foot patio was the big draw, but the slate fireplaces and stained-glass chandeliers should make for a smooth transition indoors. There’s even a chessboard—which led us to wonder: How square, exactly, was Chris aiming for? “I thought I was building a bar and grill,” he says. “Little did I know I was building a full-fledged restaurant with a good beer list” (30 to 40 varieties priced $5 to $7; Chris recommends Saison Dupont, $7). Even so, service was a little harried early on. “We underestimated the volume,” Chris says. “But that’s a good problem to have”—and a clear indication of where the neighborhood is going.