Photography: Chris Guillen

No waiting to exhale at Marshall McGearty’s

Running on Fumes
“I only smoke when I drink.” That quote can be attributed to more than half the quasi-smokers I know (including, sometimes, me). Nonetheless, the city’s new Clean Indoor Air Ordinance-prohibiting smoking in many public places, with the exception of bars, which will fall under its provisions as of July 1, 2008-left the nightlife world somewhat conflicted. Many bar owners oppose a smoking ban because they think it will hurt business; but many patrons, even smokers (not to mention employees), favor it because, let’s be honest, Chicago needs to tune up its health. That was proved by our recent ranking by Men’s Fitness as the country’s fattest metropolis. So it’s peculiar timing for R. J. Reynolds to open its first-anywhere smoking sanctuary here, called Marshall McGearty Tobacco Lounge (1553 N. Milwaukee Ave.). “The majority of our revenues come from tobacco sales, putting us in a separate class of business-a retail tobacco shop,” Brian Stebbins of RJR told me, explaining the company’s crafty way of skirting the ban. And what better place to open up this trendy new smoke-filled den than boho-chic Wicker Park, which has a concentration of adult smokers that perfectly fits RJR’s target demo? Now, I’m not condoning lighting up, but there are reasons to like the cozy new lounge, especially after it received a liquor license in late December. Simply put, it’s a cool place to hang that also happens to sell premium-quality cigarettes (nine varieties; $8 a pack). You can even order yours handcrafted via two nifty cigarette-making machines that RJR engineered specially for the shop. Add to that some beautiful hand-painted Moroccan tiled flooring, a hammered tin ceiling, and vintage smoking accouterments that you can purchase-as well as old board games, a fireplace, free WiFi, and a ventilation system that completely replaces the air every six minutes-and this new kid is a standout on the block.

Getting the party started at Chi Bar

Checking In
In the wake of the closing of the venerable Trader Vic’s in the Palmer House Hilton in January comes another hotel bar aiming to revolutionize the trade in Chicago: the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers’ new Chi Bar (301 E. North Water St.). Leave it to that hipster designer Jeffrey Beers-who’s famous for venues like Las Vegas’s Rumjungle, New York City’s Ono, and Chicago’s own Japonais-to turn the former lobby bar Spectator’s into a luxe oasis overlooking the Chicago River. Jewel-toned glass-paneled chandeliers and windows, leather furniture, and 15 plasma TVs that show images of Chicago landmarks make this space a must-hang for visitors to the hotel, which opened in 1992, and a worthy stop for nightcrawlers of Streeterville, despite a less-than-desirable location. Perhaps its most redeeming quality is the creative menu-we tried the Brie bruschetta with sweet pecan–lavender honey apple julienne, the mini Chicago-style hot dogs, and the raw bar sampler; our favorite drink was the Red Line mojito, a mix of Pama (pomegranate liqueur), fresh lime juice, club soda, simple syrup, and fresh mint. On our visit, we spotted a popular nightlife promoter scoping the place out for potential parties, so stay tuned.

Celebrity Beat
Hot and hungry: actors Ryan Phillippe and Jesse Bradford (Swimfan, Happy Endings), both in town filming Flags of Our Fathers, had dinner together at SushiSamba Rio. . . . Hot and heavy: MTV Real World stars Trishelle and Mike “The Miz” had drinks at Lincoln Park’s Grand Central, where they were spotted getting cozy in a booth. . . . Hot and happy: Extra’s weekend host John Kelley, a regular on the Chicago scene, rang in the new year at both Rockit and Cabaret.