For almost a decade, Lava Lounge built a loyal, DJ-faithful following on the border between East Village and Ukrainian Village, despite ongoing complaints from the club’s mostly residential neighbors.
Hot Lava: inside the club; DJ Eddie Riot (left)
But about two years ago, when Phil McFarland and Ty Fujimura, both now 31 and co-owners of SmallBar Wicker Park (2049 W. Division St.; Fujimura also owns SmallBar Logan Square, at 2956 N. Albany Ave.), bought the spot, tensions were at an all-time high. Instead of getting embroiled in a big legal battle, the pair decided to close up shop and look for a new home. (They’ve reimagined the original location, at 859 North Damen Avenue, as a cafè, with plans to launch this summer.)
After a ten-month hiatus, the club reopened in late February as simply Lava (1270 N. Milwaukee Ave.), in a neighborhood that welcomes its business. “We already owned SmallBar in [Wicker Park],” McFarland says. “[First ward] Alderman [Manny] Flores saw this as a much-needed addition to an underdeveloped stretch of Milwaukee Avenue.”
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The rundown couches have been replaced with leather banquettes, but the music remains intact, making the new space Wicker Park’s answer to Sonotheque and Smart Bar. Cover ranges from $1 to $10, and since Lava holds only about 100 people, bargoers get quality DJs in an intimate setting. Inside, designer Suhail (Sonotheque, DeLaCosta) has employed acoustic-friendly touches, including a lava-like ceiling and felt panels that reflect sound.
Music ranges from house to techno to drum ‘n’ bass, but the club’s real distinction may be its promoters, including Frankie Vega and The Sound Republic. “They’re championing the music,” McFarland says. He should know. Under the name BassByThePound, McFarland and Fujimura still work as promoters themselves; the business partners got their start back in 1997 at Big Wig. Wednesday, the main night they book for Lava, is the new home of their long-running ode to drum íní bass, The Seminar.
While Lava offers a diverse beer list, nothing’s available on draft, and prices run from $3 to $12. Unusual options include Wittekerke, a Belgian white that comes in a $3 can. Neighborhood hipsters and longtime regulars make up the bulk of the crowd, with a few former ravers mixed in. Lava might not be everyone’s scene, but the DJ buffs who made it ground zero for cutting-edge sounds haven’t lost faith. And probably never will.
The Goodbar guys are back. NoChance Productions-that is (pictured above, left to right), brothers Brian and Randy Roginski, Brad Tice, Tommy Leone, and Kate Thompson-now own and operate four area bars, with a fifth in the works. In addition to Goodbar and Spoon, there’s the new Cortland’s Garage, slated at press time for an April opening at the former Leopard Lounge address (1645 W. Cortland St.); Loft Six Ten, aiming to launch in early May in the old Paje space (1332 N. Milwaukee Ave.); and Goodbar and Grill, on tap for Schaumburg. I sat down with Leone and Thompson to discuss their current projects.
Leopard Lounge was popular for a long time. How will Cortland’s Garage be different?
Thompson: We’ve totally gutted the place and used raw materials throughout. We’re catering to the neighborhood with mainstream DJ-spun music on weekends.
Leone: And a popcorn machine! Plus, the whole façade opens up like a garage door, bringing the outside in during the summer. And don’t forget the “dancing doorman.” If he’s kicking you out for bad behavior, at least he’ll be dancing while he’s doing it.
Nice touch. And where does the name Loft Six Ten come from?
Leone: That’s Tice’s height. Have you ever seen that guy behind the bar? He puts on a show like no other. The place will be more high-end than our other projects. It’s going to look pretentious but not act pretentious.
Will there be a dress code?
Thompson: If you have flip-flops and a hat on, and you’re going to behave yourself, come on in.
What will the music be like?
Leone: “If the girls don’t recognize it, don’t play it” is our mantra.
Photography: Chris Guillen