Stumbling up Clark Street, I asked him, “Where are we off to?”
“Why? A Lounge,” he replied.
I answered quickly, “I’m keeping track of all the places I go.”
He flashed a silly smile. “You’ll like it. It’s kind of LA. And very lounge-y.”
“So you said.” I was curious about "LA" as an adjective. I pressed gently, “Which place is it?”
Was he trying to be coy? Cute? “So I can remember it before I have too many drinks.” Nothing is cute when it comes to details of a delicious life. “You know, for the blog.”
He laughed out loud. “You’re going to blog the bar?”
It was a comedy of errors, ghost-written by a visually and aurally stimulating setting, amazing Mexican food, level 10 conversation at warp speed, and margaritas to match - all a barely lethal combination that brought out my best Spanish gibberish. Four-five-six margaritas at Frontera Grill doesn’t sound like much given the size of the glasses, but as they say, good (strong) things come in small packages. We were giddy. Trying to get him to reveal, what we call in Korean, ee-cha (the second car in a train of nightlife stops) had taken at least half a block headed north on Clark, and after we finally did determine that “Why? Lounge” was really, “Y Lounge,” we erupted into another half block of happily buzzed laughter headed west on Ontario. It was a perfect evening for a black leather jacket, but a little windy.
About halfway to a hard buzz, my inner F.O.B.-ulosa tourist took advantage of my weakened sensibilities, and I took a picture of a McDonald’s. I know. *shakes head* I’m not sure why I thought it quite important to stop and snap a photo of a McDonald’s in the River North district of Chicago, but I am guessing that at the time, I believed it to be the largest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen. Super-size, really. No one, not even our very gracious host of the evening whom I’ll just call The VIP from now on, batted an eyelash. Either they had already been blinded into silence by my flashbulb fantasy at Frontera, or they were as nonsensically buzzed as I was, or they just thought that cute little LA girl hasn’t seen very many McDonald’s. LOL! Of course I have. I’ve just never seen one quite so...*gasp!* for the melodrama...ginormous.
On the way to Y Lounge, The VIP pointed out Portillo’s and Al’s Beef as possible stops for my daytime gastronomical tour of Chicago the next day. I nodded in appreciation for the recommendation knowing full well that there was no way I’d remember them in the morning.
Y Lounge is on Ontario, in an area that has quite a few bars, clubs, and lounges. Soundbar is next door; Spy Bar is around the corner. You might not find Y Lounge if you don’t know to look high for a glowing yellow “Y,” but at least you’d know you found it when you run into the big dude in the leather jacket out front. Now I’m not big into the guestlist game. Dressing to impress the bouncer, adopting an air of heiress entitlement, flirtation bribery, people in line when there are seven people inside the club – it’s all very stupid to me, and very L.A., but apparently, such pompous circum-dance is not limited by geography. They play the game in Chicago, too. Luckily, we just happened to be with The VIP, and sashayed up the stairs, passed the coat check for priorities – the bar.
I thought drinks would be cheaper than the ridiculously over-inflated prices in LA, but they’re about the same, at least at Y Lounge. We started – LOL! I can’t believe I just said I “started” when technically, my count for the evening was already at six – we started with martinis all around, except my citron/soda. I tasted the martini, which was absolutely filthy delicious, but I can’t order martinis in a crowded lounge that’s playing move music. Half of the precious elixir splash-bounces right out of that highly stylish, yet utterly impractical glass. I can do a martini at dinner in a restaurant. Maybe even seated at a quiet bar. In a lounge rubbing up against strangers that would otherwise raise a perfectly plucked eyebrow? Not on my beloved little olive's life.
We eventually checked our coats, so many black leather jackets becoming dangerously prone to mass static-shock. Besides, Y Lounge is a place to flaunt like you’re not trying to. Along the front wall, you and your metro date can drape yourselves for a Calvin Klein spread on low leatherette seats, though I don’t remember if they were actually leather. The marble-topped bar runs along the right wall, providing a place to perch your elbows when you’re pressed backwards up against it. It glows golden from underneath, meant to be ooh-la-la, but all I could think of when I placed my cocktail on it was marble pound cake. LOL! The bar faces what looks like the main “lounge” area with the same low seating set up in adjacent miniature sitting areas. When I innocently suggested we sit down (we did walk, after all), I was promptly alerted with a look and a raised matrini glass pointing toward the front of the lounge area – there’s a security guard separating the nightlife bourgie from the plebes. The funny thing is, there were no bourgie out. The main lounge was pretty much empty. A waif dressed in all-white (that’s my outfit!), wife-beater tank top, micro mini skirt, very-trendy-for-now ankle boots, and a hat oocasionally made an appearance on what appeared to be a shelf that couldn’t have held her if she weighed an ounce more. She was a dancer, I think. Club-provided eye-candy. Otherwise, a very drunk bourgie.
We engaged in conversation as if we hadn’t just spent hours at Frontera Grill catching up already, and even engaged total strangers in conversation. About halfway through it all, I politely excused myself, presumably to, well, go to the bathroom, but in reality, to do “the rotation.” It’s stupid, but it has to be done. I hate it. It doesn’t matter when or how many times, but “the rotation” has to be done. I headed toward the back of the Y Lounge for the ladies’ room, passing out tight-lipped smiles that hissed “Don’t talk to me” along the way. Get over yourself, Metroboy, I’m not looking at you. I’m old enough to be your...babysitter. Like fifteen years ago! The crowd
at Y Lounge is young.
The bathrooms are nice, and that’s all I need to say about that, because that’s not really what we’re there for. The bathroom? Please. Scoot over girl, I need to gloss. Lip gloss. Now complete the rotation.
We made it through two martinis, a rather short stay for ee-cha, but The VIP had plans for us. He grabbed our coats and as we headed toward the stairs that led down to the street, I took one last look over my shoulder. Yeah, it’s kinda L.A., but I’m used to it.
The VIP led us up Ontario, and about 5 blocks east and exactly 180 degrees in the opposite vibe direction from Y Lounge, we ended up at The Redhead, a piano bar. The dude at the door checked our IDs with a thank you and we ducked down the stairs of what felt like a very large converted basement rec room, low lights, dark wood, and swirling cigarette smoke. From just inside the front door at the bottom of the entry stairs, I saw a fairly sizeable circle of people with backs to us, seemingly pressing themselves en masse into the corner. They were actually seated around the piano. I couldn’t tell if they were one big group, or a bunch of strangers that were just really drunk, but people had their arms around each other, some with glasses raised in the air, all of them belting out Sweet Caroline at the top of their smoke-filled lings right along with the piano player. It seriously looked like the ending scene to some cheesy, feel-good ‘80s movie.
We passed the U-shaped bar in the center and sat down at a high table toward the rear. It was pretty crowded and rather raucous for mid-week, especially so late at night. Another set of martinis all-around and suddenly, the whole bar burst into song and dance. It was a piano version of You Shook Me All Night Long. I am not joking, the piano man was playing AC/DC. I feared for the fate of our martinis as middle-aged (*gasp!* wait, no, I’m middle aged!) Dockers-clad frat-boys-turned-accountants bounced and swung in ever-widening circles with the pastel twin-set who had kicked off their sensible shoes. I actually couldn’t tell if the crowd was mostly locals or tourists, because with servers dressed up like Vegas casino cocktail waitresses and bartenders in shirtsleeves and bow-ties, it almost felt like a tourist bar at the Epcot Center. I wanted to roll my eyes at how horrible the piano player was. I wanted to cringe at how cheesy this Disney musical version of You Shook Me All Night sounded. I wanted to turn my back to these stupid, annoying, obnoxious, drunk and immature overgrown muffins dancing around my table, but I couldn’t. I laughed instead. It was so bad, it was funny. Ridiculous.
One more martini through a slightly less painful rendition of Bon Jovi, then we called it a night. You know why Chicago nightlife is awesome? Because you can stumble ten blocks back to your hotel at 2 am.
16 West Ontario Street (between Franklin and Wells)
Chicago, IL 60610
The Redhead Piano Bar
224 West Ontario Street (between Dearborn and State)
Chicago, IL 60610