In one of the bigger bar shakeups of the year, Cary Michael, former GM of Rockit Bar & Grill, announced his resignation last week, just days after the head of Rockit Ranch’s PR, Maura Daley (aka the mayor’s niece), also said her goodbyes. I caught up with Michael to talk about his leaving and his in-the-works nightlife venture: an as-yet-unnamed spot in West Town (1371 W. Chicago Ave.) with partners Howard Natinsky (Five Star, Fat Cat) and Jim Dragatsis (Marigold).
You opened Rockit four-and-a-half years ago. Why are you leaving?
I’ve had opportunities suggested over the years, but this one I couldn’t pass up. I had a partnership in Rockit, but ownership trumps partnership.
How did you hook up with Howard and Jim?
I used to work with Jim at Lettuce [Entertain You] years ago. Howard and Jim met when Howard opened Fat Cat last year; Marigold is next door.
Your opening date is tentatively scheduled for October. How far have you gotten with the space?
We started construction [last] Monday. The place is 4,300 square feet and seats 140. It’s set up like Club Lucky; you walk right into the front bar. The next building over is the atrium and dining room; it’s a double lot.
Is it more restaurant or more bar, or both?
It’s predominantly a bar, but definitely not a Rockit late-night bar.
What’s the music format?
A blend of modern stuff; nothing too off the wall: Jamiroquai, Stevie Wonder, Beck.
What about the design?
Howard used to own Hudson Club, so he has a good eye for design. It’s an industrial warehouse space, with natural elements. Not as fancy as Hudson Club, but we’ll have custom barstools and chairs from India.
What does the drink list look like?
We’ll have an American wine list and specialty cocktails with fresh fruits and vegetables and simple syrups—but not necessarily Violet Hour-level. Very modest pricing: $8 to $10 a cocktail.
What did you learn about running a successful bar from Rockit?
At Rockit our food sales have increased, even though the economy is [in the dumps]; people aren’t cooking. [Also] key elements of service and consistency: making sure the customer is treated well; taking care of the people who support you. And you’ve got to spend money to make money and get your name out in the community, hosting fundraisers, et cetera. That’s what I bring. And staffing—we want to make sure guests walk out of here happy. That’s actually something I learned from Rich Melman.
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New Bar Alert
Is it a club? A restaurant? A lounge? Answer: Club Royale is all three. This new downtown crossover destination opened quietly a couple of weeks ago and is targeting—get this—an over-35 demographic. From the extensive, high-end "bubbles and booze" list: a sparkling mojito (10 Cane Rum, Moët & Chandon White Star, simple syrup, lime juice, and freshly muddled mint; $14) and more than 40 Champagnes by the bottle and glass.
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Lolla Celeb Beat
Keep checking Coda throughout the weekend for reports from the Lolla front. In the meantime, plan your afterparty itinerary with an eye toward where the celebs will be: On Friday the 1st from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., celebrity spinner Samantha Ronson returns to the turntables at Crimson Lounge . . . At 9 p.m. Saturday the 2nd, the Disco Biscuits’ keyboardist Aaron Magner spins at Cat’s Meow (2700 W. Chicago Ave.) with bass player Marc Brownstein . . . Angels & Kings hosts the Hard Rock Hotel VIP Music Lounge’s official after-afterparties, which are open to the public (the Hard Rock’s VIP Music Lounge isn’t), with confirmed appearances by Chuck from The Cool Kids and Gym Class Heroes, among others. Bonus: Pete Wentz spins at A&K on Sunday the 3rd . . . The Underground hosts live performances by Katy Perry (tonight, July 31st) and G. Love and Special Sauce (Sunday the 3rd), plus DJ sets by Danny Masterson and DJ Cassidy (Saturday the 2nd). Doors open at 10 p.m.; get on the list by emailing VIP@rockitranch.com.