111 W. Kinzie St. 312-880-1511
Rating: 2 (out of four) Give it some time
The scene: Talk about a cavern. This subterranean "speakeasy" (read: no sign on the door) is, to put it delicately, huge. A wide staircase empties patrons into an industrial-looking foyer containing a hostess stand and bathrooms. From there, three main rooms branch off, each containing a full bar and enough seating to be a restaurant in itself. The center room, the largest, features a raised stage where, during our visit, a band played as swing dancers shimmied. My friend and I were seated in a cushy corner booth in one of the side rooms, giving us a wide view of the half-filled dining tables and packed bar area. While the '20s-'30s supper-club theme feels demandant and spot-on for the space, the fedora-and-suspenders combo donned by most of the male staffers makes it all feel a bit over the top. The crowd? Let's just say I enjoyed listening to the men in well-tailored suits referencing the Urban Daddy newsletter about Untitled as they sipped whiskey at the bar. Same goes for the ladies in the so-large-you-could-get-lost ladies' room who had decided to spontaneously start speaking in British accents at 11 p.m.
The food: The old-fashioned supper-club theme carries through the opulent decor, semi-ridiculous staff get-ups and, of course, the menu. Bites are a mix of throwback dishes you've probably never ordered (the $12 oysters Rockefeller) and Southern-inspired home cooking ($7 tomato sauce-topped grit cakes, $10 strawberry shortcake). But while some dishes hit the spot (don't miss the grilled peach and arugula salad or the cheese- and corn-stuffed fried squash blossoms, both $12), others fell flat. The grit cakes were thick, under-seasoned bricks without enough tomato topping to save them. Both desserts I tried were total letdowns, with the cake layers of the strawberry shortcake lacking flavor and the brioche doughnuts ($10) arriving cold, crunchy and not at all appealing.
The drinks: I fault myself for getting too excited about the Pistol Smoke cocktail, made with scotch, pipe tobacco, chamomile tea, vanilla and lemon juice ($14). I had it built up in my mind as this smooth, dark punch, but instead, it tasted more of lemon than anything—a hard feat when you're dealing with a scotch base. And that promised pipe tobacco? If it was in there, I didn't notice. Instead, my favorite house cocktail wound up being Don Patricio's Pinkie Ring, a mild mix of pisco, strawberries, white pepper, sparkling rose and lemon juice, which managed to be refreshingly girlie without being cloying.
Bottom line: Apparently Chicago isn't sick of the speakeasy concept yet, so go ahead and go, even just to say you've been. Get a seat in the main room near the stage, order the Don Patricio's Pinkie Ring and check in on Foursquare from the bathroom (the only place you'll get service). But unless the kitchen steps up its game and the drink quality evens out, there may not be much reason to go back.
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