|Fine service at West Town’s Five Star|
While on a recent visit to Five Star (1424 W. Chicago Ave.), my latest favorite watering hole, a friend compared its strip of Chicago Avenue (near Ashland Avenue) to Ukrainian Village’s Division Street. It’s true that neighboring hot spots such as Cleo’s, The Darkroom, Tuman’s, and Sonotheque have heated up the street’s soon-to-be-widened sidewalks. But I think the area is starting to look like Hubbard Street, with many of the newer bars, such as Pharmacy, Five Star, and High Dive, flaunting a distinctly rock-‘n’-roll vibe, similar to that of Rockit Bar and Grill, but a little less trendy and upscale. Five Star’s co-owner Lyle Aker is the former district manager of Whiskey Bar and Whiskey Sky at the W Hotel Lakeshore, a spot I have frequented for years. “We remember faces,” says Aker. “Sixty percent of our patrons are neighborhood folks. The other 40 are friends.” Aker and partners Howard Natinsky (formerly of the Hudson Club, the original Lucky Strike, Corner Pocket, and Southport Lanes) and Patrick Poncher (also a manager at Whiskey Bar) are pioneering a new breed of neighborhood bar: this clean, polished, and unpretentious establishment with an open street façade offers fashionably slick touches, such as a hefty selection of American bourbons, above-average bar food, DJ-spun rock tunes, and even an über-trendy stripper pole in a private backroom. Decorated with black Naugahyde pincushion booths, tufted walls, gilded mirrors, and authentic rock posters, a gift from the personal collection of Metro impresario Joe Shanahan, the place transcends typical notions of the neighborhood dive bar. It’s kind of like a place you’d stumble upon while visiting the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas-if it were transported to West Town.
What the bar scene is buzzing about in August
|Getting cozy at Citizen Bar|
The neighborhood bar is back-and River North certainly needed one. Citizen Bar (364 W. Erie St.) was so well received, it had lines forming down the block two weeks after its soft public opening in May. Credit the 3,000 square feet of outdoor-drinking space. Beware, though: the crowd is funneled to the considerably smaller bar inside around midnight.
Rednofive (440 N. Halsted St.) underwent a makeover after eight years of hosting late-night partyers. The dark burgundy spot has gone a clean, ethereal white. The most interesting touch: the diorama of S&M porno built into the wall behind the downstairs bar.
NoMI (Park Hyatt Hotel, 800 N. Michigan Ave.) opened its terrace in June to a packed patio of well-dressed, sophisticated nightlife and media types who drank the place dry, finishing off eight cases of Champagne, more than 300 muddled drinks, and a case of rum.
Now you see it, now you don’t: Yes, that was real grass on the sidewalk café of Spoon (1240 N. Wells St.) during its industry party for the Wells Street Art Festival in June.
Chicago native and Hollywood bad-boy Jeremy Piven, the star of HBO’s hit show Entourage, was on his best behavior while in town to cohost his family’s annual Piven Theatre Workshop Benefit at Rockit Bar and Grill, which raised $150,000. “If you make time for anything, this is what you make time for,” he told me. The actor’s abrupt manner has earned him a fair amount of negative press, and an exchange of profanities with actor Stephen Dorff in the line for the loo at Manhattan’s Bungalow 8 made “Page Six” and burned hot on the gossip blogs for a day or two. In his defense, Piven said this about the differences between the Chicago and L.A. scenes: “Chicago people look you in the eye. That’s why I think I’m misunderstood in L.A. Because here you can talk to anybody-over there, if you approach someone, they assume that you want something from them.” Also at the event was Piven Theatre Workshop alum and Grey’s Anatomy star Kate Walsh, draped in a silk Nicole Miller gown. Cohost Billy Dec, who donated his River North hot spot for the A-list affair, seems more than happy to be a player in Piven’s posse. “Whatever I can do to help boost Chicago’s theatre presence in the entertainment industry,” he told me.
Photography: Chris Guillen