New neighborhood bars that open in not-so-new neighborhoods have a choice to make: Stitch themselves into the fabric or blaze a new path. In a neighborhood as established as Little Italy, it’s not surprising Jay’s on Taylor (1421 W. Taylor St., 312-666-6663) toes the line—so much so that I almost expected the bar, which opened mid-April, to seem a little more weathered and old-school than shiny and sleek (two plasmas; lots of brick and dark wood; a collection of photos of the owner and long-time industry vet Jay Emerich with mugs you’re likely to recognize, from James Brown to Mick Jagger; and, of course, the requisite red-and-white-checked tablecloths).
If Jay’s were just a bar, I would call it skippable for non-locals. Pleasant but not-especially-cab-worthy highlights include Peroni on draft, a decent wine list, and a friendly staff. But the menu makes Jay’s a worthy destination for those looking to fill up while tossing back. The $3.95 fries aside, appetizers are a little pricey at $7.50 and up but hardly qualify as bar snacks: Mozzarella and spinach-topped bruschetta, homemade sausage with artichokes, and grilled calamari in a rich broth all come served with care atop white paper placemats.
The crowd skewed older—30 and up (“and up” meaning 60)—on my visit. I sat at the bar near three very loud talkers who apologized for being so noisy. Which they were, but more in an entertaining than bothersome way, except when they insisted I must love ABBA since I’m a girl (I don’t). They also insisted—a good seven times—on adding my tab to theirs. I protested and protested and protested, then stopped, because they weren’t trying to pick me up. They were just being, well, kind of neighborly. And when in Rome—or, as luck would have it, Little Italy . . .
* * *
TO DO THIS WEEKEND: If low-key Jay’s sounds more Tuesday evening than Saturday night, you’re in luck: Five high-profile bars open to much fanfare this week. The West Loop’s Market, co-owned by White Sox GM Kenny Williams, opens Friday and gets its sports-bar feet wet Saturday with a Derby party. After much delay, slick sports lounge No. 2, District Bar, opens to the public in River North at 9 p.m. Saturday. Just around the corner, the massive rock joint LaSalle Power Co. takes over the old Lalo’s space, with opening parties Friday and Saturday. Not a sports bar but in a sports ’hood, Rockit Bar & Grill (3700 N. Clark St.; 773-645-4400), an offshoot of Billy Dec’s River North staple, opened earlier this week in Wrigleyville. And, two years and counting later, Loft Six Ten finally gets its bourbon on Friday in Wicker Park.