It was a rainy evening when I ducked into the Listening Room at the Exchange. My umbrella had blown out and my phone wouldn’t stop buzzing, but by the time I settled in with a rum punch while a jazz guitar album played, all felt right. It felt even better once I started eating: olives and pickled peppers in fruity olive oil; a country loaf to slather with housemade ricotta and honey (do yourself a favor and take home a loaf of baker Matt Pontarelli’s exceptional bread for $10); and a squash salad with radishes, greens, and quinoa. I ordered a glass of wine as the rain dissipated and another album began.
Listening rooms — small bars with state-of-the-art stereo equipment — were invented in Japan and are making their way stateside. Though at the moment, the Listening Room isn’t too different from other Chicago bars that happen to have excellent audio setups, eventually there will be less of a focus on a full dinner menu and more on little bites and creating an intimate atmosphere that’s better for listening.
“We want it to be an experience where hearing an album is like hearing it again for the first time,” says executive chef Brian Huston (Boltwood), an audiophile who brought his jazz, blues, rock, and country albums to the bar. That sounds lovely, of course, but the experience at the Listening Room already is. The next time I need an escape, I know I just need to pop by. 224 S. Michigan Ave., Loop