Consider us converts. With his new South Loop dance club, The Shrine, Joe Russo has built a temple to the music of West Africa and all of the genres that followed, from funk to hip-hop. And while music gives The Shrine its distinctive groove, it’s the nightspot’s refreshingly diverse vibe that has us singing its praises.
There’s an A-side and a B-side to everything here, beginning with the space itself. Attached to the main club is the smaller, loungier Coup d’État; the former is closed on off nights to keep the latter bustling (crowd control is one lesson Russo learned at his earlier ventures, including Funky Buddha Lounge and the now-shuttered Sinibar). But by 11 p.m. on a recent Friday, both areas were packed with a largely but not exclusively African American clientele of mostly 30-somethings. We love finding a dance floor that doesn’t cater to the barely 21 crowd but were surprised to see even this economy can’t quash bottle service: Waitresses ferried Grey Goose to the three VIP areas with some frequency.
The club’s one missed note falls on the drink list’s more affordable flip side. We found the $9 themed cocktails, each named for a dictator—for example, The Mobutu—in questionable taste considering The Shrine takes its name from the legendary Nigerian club owned by the late musician and human-rights activist Fela Kuti (Russo defends the shtick, citing his goal of overthrowing the state of Chicago nightlife).
The soundtrack makes up for any discord. National acts—Slick Rick, Eric Roberson—take the stage on first Thursdays, with local talent and a top-notch roster of DJs supplementing the lineup: Tone B. Nimble, Timbuck2, Jesse De La Peña. The one thing you won’t find at the otherwise inclusive Shrine is that staple of so many other Chicago clubs: Top 40 beats. Amen to that.
GO: THE SHRINE
2109 S. Wabash Ave.; theshrinechicago.com
Photography: Chris Guillen