Ten places that have set the scene on fire since the start of 2005
Avenue M (695 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 312-243-1133). Foodies may sniff that this after-dark destination is as popular for its lounge scene as it is for Dan Kelly’s contemporary American menu. But you won’t hear the cocktailers complain about sharing space in this 10,000-square-foot modern two-story plot-an example of the “restolounge” concept that seems to be sweeping Chicago nightlife. The 2,000-square-foot outdoor patio is so secluded the scenesters probably think they’re swilling in South Beach. They certainly dress like it. This outdoor cocktail oasis has its own bar, towering magnolia trees, ivy-covered walls, and plenty of comfortable cream-cushioned wicker patio furniture.
Cobra Lounge (235 N. Ashland Ave.; 312-226-6300). On a stretch of Ashland Avenue that’s not exactly a nightlife hotbed, this very punk-rock lounge stands as an antidote to all the grimy and pretentious hipster joints dotting Wicker Park. The red-and-black color scheme cultivates a rock ‘n’ roll vibe, as do touches like modern industrial light fixtures suspended by metal chains, exposed brick walls and flooring, a painting of a skeleton smoking a cigarette, and a waitstaff with more tattoos and piercings than the kids at Ozzfest. The backroom, which holds 150 people, houses a restaurant and stage where bands play. When live music’s not on the bill, a DJ holds court.
Five Star Bar & Grill (1424 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-850-2555). This newcomer, which feels like it’s been around for decades, is pumping much needed energy into Chicago Avenue’s nightlife scene. Adorned with posters from cult movies and rock concerts, it has the look of a real rock club minus the live rock music. But the DJ spins everything you’ll hear on ‘XRT anyway. The lone pool table sees a lot of action, and so does the stripper pole in the semiprivate backroom. Like bourbon? There are 30 to choose from. And the sliders-a bar menu item du jour-and crispy fries satisfied our hunger.
J Bar (610 N. Rush St.; 312-660-7200). Since the James hotel’s bar is not actually in the hotel-it’s next door-it has all the makings of a stand-alone lounge, distinguished by purple leather banquettes, modular seating, and specialty cocktails like the dry and deconstructed 3rd Martini with blue cheese olive lollipops. You’ll see plenty of beautiful scenesters checking themselves out in the mirrored walls or simply grooving to lounge music.
Junior’s Sports Lounge (724 W. Maxwell St.; 312-421-2277). Located in the heart of University Village, this 5,000-square-foot upscale sports bar boasts 35 hi-def plasma TVs, as well as booths with individually controlled screens. The place also doubles as a late-night lounge. The crowd is diverse and young, kicking back with as many beers as martinis.
Lakeview Broadcasting Company (3542 N. Halsted St.; 773-857-2444). The LBC crowd is a cross section of nightlifers-gay straight guys, straight gay boys, young Lincoln Park girls, dirty rocker punks, nerds, loners, and all the bi-confused types in between. The music is equally mixed-heavy doses of hip-hop and electro-rock, and even those songs you’re embarrassed to love, all mashed up by resident DJ and co-owner Paul Blair, who goes by the name Whiteshadow. It’s hipster but not pretentious; the drink prices won’t make you choke, and it’s so rock-’n'-roll, Fall Out Boy’s bassist Pete Wentz is already a regular (and his clothing line, Clandestine, outfits the staff). Oh, yeah, the girls are hot, too-check out the glass-encased “model box.”
Luxbar (18 E. Bellevue Pl.; 312-642-3400). The brainchild of the team behind Gibsons, this bar-restaurant hybrid sits smack in the heart of the Viagra triangle, although this crowd doesn’t appear to need any romantic aids. The tanned and toned hang out in droves, and the group of 50-, 40-, 30-, and 20-somethings littering the sidewalk out front become one big pickup pool. The easy food-fried chicken club sandwich, sliders, chopped salad-is just good enough to let you sit tight for a while, but, really, does anyone around here even eat?
Stone Lotus (873 N. Orleans St.; 312-440-9680). Billing itself as the first-ever “liquor spa,” Chris Dexter’s latest high-concept lounge marries four-star service to a hard-partying scene. Massages are not on the menu, but “bottle treatments” are. So, rather than just getting an overpriced bottle of liquor when you reserve a table (the latter is mandatory for speedy entrance unless you know someone), you also get bite-size eats that are carefully paired with your particular poison by former Trio Atelier chef Dale Levitski. Also supplied with the table: appropriate mixers, warmed hand towels, bottled water, and service befitting that of a fine restaurant. A bottle of 10 Cane Rum ($300), for example, comes with grilled Jamaican-spiced jumbo prawns, among other things.
Victor Hotel (311 N. Sangamon St.; 312-733-6900). Leave it to Jerry Kleiner to convert an old meatpacking freezer facility into a beautiful yet stark gallerylike marvel that blurs the line between cocktails and culture. The décor is sexy and industrial-marble mosaic tiling, concrete floors, a red leather Noel Hennessy couch, black-and-white Helmut Newton photographs, the original stainless-steel doors, and modern light fixtures throughout. The hey-baby crowd tends to have a European flair; and Wednesdays are a throwback to the old Shelter days with nineties music and prices. Since Kleiner’s a foodie first, you will get restaurantworthy fare like sushi, upscale apps, and gourmet panini sandwiches.
Wicker Park Tavern (1958 W. North Ave.; 773-278-5138). The owners of the once venerable Borderline Tap (and of Café Absinthe next door and Green Dolphin Street nearby) gave their 12-year-old spot a modern-day makeover in 2005, turning the once gritty punk-rock hangout into a more yuppified watering hole, with shiny new hardwood floors, flat-screen TVs, a mahogany bar, leather couches, and a satellite jukebox-not to mention a more kempt crowd. The yupsters may have taken over, but they still know how to get down: even in the wee hours-it’s open till 4 a.m. most nights and 5 a.m. on Saturdays-the crowds practically spill out of the windows onto Damen Avenue.
Photograph: Chris Guillen