Who says hanging out in a garage isn’t cool anymore? Cortland’s Garage (1645 W. Cortland St.) opened Friday night in the old Leopard Lounge space; the new bar bears only a minimal resemblance to the old 23-and-up hangout. Gone are the Bettie Page-esque pinups and leopard print; the fireplace is history, too, replaced by cube seating. And due to a city ordinance, the back patio has been enclosed, although management will open up the glass faÃ§ade, garage door-style, during warmer months to let the outside in.
Another change comes via the new “urban garage-chic” dÃ©cor, conceived by Todd Showalter of the firm Indica 22. Showalter is the creative mind behind nightlife haunts Moonshine, Parlor, Butter, La Pomme Rouge (108 W. Kinzie St., in the old Sugar space; liquor license pending), and a few clubs that are gone but not forgotten, including Shelter and China Club. “Limelight was my first nightclub job,” he told me.
With its anything-goes dress code, Cortland’s Garage is Bucktown at its least edgy and most laidback - although there is one nod to luxury: “The bathrooms are the nicest in the neighborhood,” Showalter said. His wife, Anita, agreed: “I waited ’til we got here tonight to use the bathroom,” she told me. For good reason: Two separate women’s restrooms, each tiled in seamless pearl mosaics, house sparkling crystal chandeliers.
In the main bar, the pinups have been replaced by black-and-white photos of mechanics; bartenders sport wife-beater tank tops; and martinis come with names like Jump Start and Tail Light. “We’re going to put the old Vargas pinups back up somewhere,” Randy Roginski, a partner in the bar’s parent company, NoChance Productions, assured me. NoChance (Roginski; his brother, Brian; Tommy Leone; Brad Tice; and Kate Thompson) also owns Goodbar and is aiming to open another new spot, Loft Six Ten, in July in the former Paje space (1332 N. Milwaukee Ave.).
Between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. Friday, the bar saw about 400 curious visitors, from neighborhood residents to nightlife industry types, including Rednofive owners John Oppenheimer and Duke Miglin. “Is it a sports bar or not a sports bar?” Oppenheimer asked while sipping his signature drink, an Effen Black Cherry and soda with lemon. “It’s a slippery slope. They have one foot in a sports bar and one on a banana peel.” Perhaps he was referring to the five 50-inch plasma TVs hanging behind the bar, which will air games. On Friday, however, the only thing playing was music from the corner DJ booth, from Mary J. Blige to the Steve Miller Band.
Not a bad ode to those high-school garage parties.