The VIP, who had taken us to Y Lounge and the Redhead the night before wasn’t able to host us for our second and final evening in Chicago, but he named a few recommendations: Moda, Soundbar, Spy Bar. Left to our own devices, we hopped into a cab in front of Greek Islands and must have uttered something sensible to the driver. It was still early when the cab poured us, lightly marinated in ouzo, out onto the corner of Franklin and Erie.
We were looking for Spy Bar, but it’s such a top secret, international bar of mystery that there’s no sign. In fact, there is no real indication that there is any nightlife in the entire area except that every once in a while, there’s a big dude in a black jacket and a wire attached to his ear standing in a doorway looking utterly displeased. We approached a little elf of a guy half-sitting, half-standing on a stool by himself in front a restaurant. He was dressed in a red and white retro-hip athletic sweatsuit jacket, chosen with a lot of care to give off an I-don’t-care attitude.
“Hi. Where is Spy Bar?” I smiled.
“This is Spy Bar,” he said, looking up from his clipboard. “Let me go check if they’re ready.” He disappeared down the stairs behind him.
If they’re ready? Ready for what? We were laughing. Were we that early? Two guys walked toward us from the opposite side of the street. They were early, too. While we waited for the Elf to return, we chatted with the club boys about the scene. Just as the Elf emerged from whatever darkness was below, the club boys mentioned that they had come to Spy bar for the open bar until 11 p.m. We looked at each other and exchanged raised eyebrows. Open bar. We had come to the right place.
The Elf returned to his perch on the stool and turned to us. “Are you on the guest list?”
Ugh. The game. Do I really have to play this game? Here in Chicago? I took a chance.
I recoiled, but only internally, since now we were in the game, but really, it was too late. I had already hinted at plebe status in Chicago’s clubland when I asked where Spy Bar was, and now had fouled out by admitting that we weren’t on the guest list. We looked at each other and shrugged. Oh well, ten dollars wasn’t a lot for an open bar.
“Open bar is for guest list.”
Are you serious? Okay, this business model made no sense. Normal nightlife SOP is to incentivize early arrival and fill up the space with discounted or no cover charge, or an open bar. We were so early, the Elf had to go see if they were ready, yet, he was charging us ten dollars each for cover and expected us to pay full-price for drinks when they’re giving away alcohol to people who weren’t even going to be paying at the door. Hey, brilliant promoter, how about collecting your precious “door” and giving us those wristbands that cost you nothing? Or giving us a break at the door so we’ll spend more at the bar? No, and no.
I was annoyed by the greedy little elfin promoter. "Who cares?" I pouted, wanting to go somewhere else because I am the only one with a swizzle stick up my very tight a$$. “Sarah, it’s only ten dollars.” Ten dollars isn’t a lot of money, but it’s a lot of principle. "It's your vacation." Oh, fine. We paid the Elf and descended the staircase into what became progressively darker and louder.
Spy Bar was empty. We were, quite literally, the first ones there. I had to laugh. The Elf had given me heartache over this? I excused myself “to gloss” and came back to a citron/soda from the long, front bar that runs almost the entire length of the narrow basement space. It’s very dark, with the only light seeming to emanate from the blue backlit wall behind the bar and the red neon “Spy Bar” at a smaller satellite bar in the far rear corner. There are lounge type areas with couches and low tables set up at each end of the room, both areas, empty of course. This was going to be interesting.
We did the normal club activity of drinking, chatting, checking people out (girls are more casual, guys dress up a bit more), and noticed that the majority of the people who filtered in through the door made a beeline for the back bar. The entire place was nowhere even close to a quarter full, but almost everyone was huddled around that area, including a whole row of PYTs sitting like perfect little ducks in a perfect little row on one of the couches. I wandered over there and somehow found myself batting my eyelashes in the middle of a cigarette smoke filled circle of young men who obviously had no idea that I was at least five years older than the oldest of them. Hi, I’m...nice to meet...visiting...oh really you're a promoter?...not sure what we’re doing later. The promoter I had just met was a junior varsity version of an LA promoter we know, and I walked away with information. We went to the back bar, ordered drinks, and discovered that this is an open bar that doesn’t seem to care about wristbands. Suffice it to say that for the rest of the evening, we were drinking at that back bar with a vengeance. The Elf had made us pay ten dollars upstairs, but he was paying for it with us down here.
No one was dancing to the unremarkable house music that was outdated by about a year and half, but it didn’t matter to us. Vodka flowing like tap water had given us license to own the dancefloor like we were anonymous. :) Don’t worry, we didn’t go anywhere near the two stripper poles. Another hour at the open bar, then maybe. LOL!
As much as we wanted to drink the Elf into the red, we eventually got bored with Spy Bar. The crowd never seemed able to break its max of about forty people and to be quite honest, there wasn't enough eye candy or drama to keep us there past the closing of the open bar. We took off for the JV promoter's recommendation. I blew a kiss to the Elf as we walked away.
K Lounge is a separate bar and lounge area in the back of Kizoku Sushi restaurant. The crowd was different than it had been at Spy Bar - a few years older and a bit more hipster glam. A photographer handed us his card and offered to take a picture. I shoved the card into my back pocket to throw away later, and declined the photo. He moved on to bigger and blonder things. We ordered drinks at the main bar in the dining room of the restaurant, then wandered back to take a peek at the K Lounge. It's exotic/erotic with low red and black leather lounge seating and sexy artwork on the walls. ThoughI know I should be so bold as to say without trying, for some reason,
I couldn't really imagine myself having an incredible meal of sushi here. I just had a sense that it was very similar to some of the geisharokutengu sushi bars in la la land. There was a bar back there, too, but it was fairly empty. We finished our drinks, and decided we should try to get back to the hotel before we were completely incapacitated.
You don't realize how long the walk is from K Lounge to the hotel when you're very happily buzzed.
But you definitely realize how long it is the next day when your feet are throbbing from your stupidstupidstupid stiletto stupid heels, and you find a picture of a McDonald's that you must have stopped at along the way to use the restroom, and you find a half eaten grilled nuclear vinyl cheese sandwich on a room service tray on the floor next to the bed, and there are 3 am hotel bar charges on your invoice when you check out. At least I didn't open up the mini-bar.
646 North Franklin (@ Erie)
Chicago, IL 60610
K Lounge at Kizoku Sushi
358 West Ontario
Chicago, IL 60610