Despite its moneyed pedigree, Old Town plays one way when it comes to nightlife: pubs, pubs, and more pubs. So when I heard about Old Town Social, an upscale “sporting parlour” opening in the neighborhood—my neighborhood—I brushed off a hint of skepticism and headed over.
I was in for a pleasant surprise. I’ve never even noticed this building, I thought, stepping into the massive former audio repair shop. To my right was a marble charcuterie bar, part of an effort by the chef, Jared Van Camp (Blackbird), to push a credible menu. The rest of the barnlike space was softened by clusters of antiques. Walking toward the main bar, I noted couples nuzzling in half-curtained booths, while groups of 30-somethings appeared politely undistracted by football games playing on flat screens. I perched on a stool, ordered a bourbon, and promptly dropped my credit card on the floor. “Excuse me,” I said, tapping the nearest guy and gesturing first to my barstool-unfriendly skirt, then to the card. “Would you mind grabbing that?” He raised an incredulous eyebrow but handed me my card nonetheless. Awkward introductions aside, Todd and I made friends a few minutes later. “You know what I’d like?” he mused. “If the waitresses wore miniskirts instead of jeans. I’d buy more drinks if I saw more leg.”
Turns out Todd doesn’t quite fit the mold the owners, Chris Freeman and Chris Dexter, had in mind. (The pair have ties to a long list of bars, from Sidebar to Stone Lotus; Social marks Dexter’s re-emergence following a much-gossiped-about split with his previous partners several years back.) “We wanted it to be a grown-up place,” Dexter says of Social. Fair enough, but in Old Town, there will always be Todds looking for leg. For the rest of us, there’s this civilized fall drink special: the sweet and sassy Apple Cider (Stoli Gala Apple vodka, simple syrup made with cranberries, and house-milled cider; $9). When it comes to raising the bar on neighborhood nightlife, that’s a start.
GO: OLD TOWN SOCIAL
455 W. North Ave.
Photograph: Chris Guillen