Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

A Sense of Decency: Moscow Mules and DIY Drinks at the Highball Lounge

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Photo: Philamonjaro

At first, walking up the stairs into the Highball Lounge is a little jarring—the shiny, clunky metal stairs are loud and modern, not what you would expect from a retro bar like this. But walking into the dimly lit bar, the atmosphere and music soothe the nerves. The walls and decor are fifties and sixties-inspired, and while they reach into the past, the bar is definitely in the present. It’s like a dream, a mixing of two eras, a surreal place to cut loose and not think about reality for a while.

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411: Paddy O’Fegan’s Opens, and Isn’t It Always News When an Irish Pub Opens in Chicago?

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Patrick Fegan (Paddy) and his team of chefs and bartenders are a bunch of characters, the type of people who always seem to have a few jokes in the chamber and a flattering interest in the people they encounter. They are also an ambitious lot, as they prepare for their August 15 opening of Paddy O’Fegan’s, the Fulton Market District’s newest Irish, Canadian, and American (Camerish?) neighborhood pub.

When you first walk into the pub, you will be greeted by Chef Jack Austin’s river rock mosaic floor, which reads “Céad Mile Fáilte,” Gaelic for 100,000 welcomes. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Minimal Mixology

New bars and clubs, News and Dish, The Fine Art of Mixology No Comments »

When asked whether he considers himself a bartender or a mixologist, Peter Gugni answers with a grin and a nod, “I’m a bartender. I take care of my bar.” Gugni is also the general manager of The Bedford. Once the Home Bank & Trust, the basement of 1612 West Division is now a late-night kitchen and bar. Gugni designed the bar to be “built for speed,” he explains. “I wanted to make it so you don’t have to wait fifteen minutes for a drink.” Taking a minimalist approach when creating the original cocktail list with more than a dozen options, Gugni used “the fewest ingredients—but with the most flavor.” Such strategizing allows bartenders to carefully create beverages without having to cut corners to meet a busy crowd’s requests. Yet an overwhelming grand opening and a noticeably swamped bar staff led Gugni to rethink The Bedford’s offerings. With more than thirty wine  and twenty beer options, there are only three cocktails on the menu. To offer the highest and most consistent quality drinks, Gugni decided to take a step back.  “I don’t want to say we are a cocktail bar,” admits Gugni, “but we are a bar that does great cocktails.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Winter’s Ail: Alcohol cures the uncommon cold

New bars and clubs, Tales of Drunken Woe No Comments »

lMost people I know save barhopping for summer, when the temperature agrees with crowds and the night air rumbles with tension, with perspiration, with sex.

I drink in winter. The shedding of winter dress upon entering a dark and musty room feels like abandoning the torture outside. Rooms are empty, tables thin. You get to know your bartender. You’re the only sad bastard within range.

I have a half-dream of someday opening a tavern called Scar Bar—“scar” as in “emotional scar,” not “physical scar,” though bikers will always be welcome—where the soundtrack consists solely of Joy Division, The Smiths, Velvet Underground and Elliott Smith. You get it. When I heard the people behind the old Thursday night dance party at Neo were opening a bar in the Logan Square area, the neighborhood where I live, and they had the audacity to call it Late Bar, I was terrified. Terrified because I can actually imagine the Planet Earth people improving on my inevitably out-of-reach fantasy. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Earth stays up late

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duran“Whenever two DJs open a bar, music is going to be a big part of it,” says Kristine Hengl, co-owner of the newly conceived Late Bar, set to open December 26 in Logan Square. “It’s part of our existence. There’s a whole bunch of music that we love, but sometimes it doesn’t really bring a crowd. We just think this is a great place to showcase that.” Located at 3534 West Belmont, Late Bar was created by Hengl and her partner Dave Roberts, a seasoned DJ in the Chicago nightclub scene. Open Tuesday through Friday from 9pm-4am, and Saturday until 5am, Late Bar’s flagship night, dubbed “Planet Earth,” will be every Saturday. “You’re going to think we’re really nerdy for this, but our name, ‘Late Bar,’ is actually from the b-side to Duran Duran’s single ‘Planet Earth.’ And we’re open till 4am, so it works.”

Yak Yak Yak: Lincoln Park institution Yak-Zies gets a makeover

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mGranite floors, two custom-fitted bars and gleaming cherry wood walls are some of the highlights of what used to be a “basement dive bar” just two years ago.

The original Yak-Zies at 506 West Diversey has reopened its doors after being closed, due to the death of its owner, Kenny Miller, in 2007. The “facelift,” as general manager Dan Schack describes it, began in November.

“People walk in and they’re like ‘wow,’” says Schack. “The response from the neighborhood has been unbelievable.” Read the rest of this entry »

Nighty Night: Inside the new resto-bar from the owners of Lula Cafe

Bars of Summer, New bars and clubs No Comments »

nightwood_001When Jason Hammel describes his experience of opening Nightwood in Pilsen, he draws similarities to being the new kid in town. “It’s a process to get introduced to a neighborhood and the people here,” he says. “To be a newcomer is not easy, it’s like the first day of school for us.” Yet in terms of popularity, this summer has proven that Nightwood is poised to become one of the neighborhood’s favorite upscale haunts.

The restaurant/bar has been garnering attention since its opening in late May, which is no surprise considering that it is the latest venture for Hammel and his wife Amalea Tshilds, the duo behind Logan Square’s Lula Café. They teamed up with Matt Eisler—owner of Empire Liquors, Bar Deville and Angels and Kings—and Kevin Heisner to create the minimalist space within Pilsen’s gallery district. “We had been looking here for a while; I think that it is a unique neighborhood,” Hammel says. “There are a lot of artists that live here, a lot of young people that are doing creative things. There is a geographic otherness in the same sense that Logan Square feels cut off from the rest of Chicago and I like that about it.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Violet Hour: The New Wicker Park lounge raises spirits

New bars and clubs, The Nighthawk No Comments »

From the outside, new Wicker Park lounge The Violet Hour appears to be just another dive bar. There’s no sign, and the plain wood paneling nearly obscures the door, except for the bright yellow light bulb hanging overhead. But the line outside on weekends arouses curiosity about this secretive new hot spot where the cocktail reigns supreme.

Named after a line from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland,” the elegant setting inside The Violet Hour is a striking contrast to the outside. Theatrical, blue curtains divide the three rooms and ornate chandeliers accent the lofty ceilings. Candles and soft lighting illuminate the pristine rooms, reminiscent of a Prohibition-era social club in a metropolitan hotel. Tall, regal blue chairs and cushy booths beside a fireplace provide a comfortable spot for sipping chic cocktails made with the utmost care by the expert, well-dressed bartenders. Read the rest of this entry »

Lounge Acts: New nightspots destined to become destinations

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By Liz Haley

Chicago neighborhoods are constantly evolving, and bars and restaurants need to keep up to meet the ever-changing needs of night-lifers. Pleasing everyone can be hard, but we’ve found a few spots that we think will suit any mood.

If you’re tired of the club scene and are looking for a place that feels like a club without a bouncer or cover charge, check out new Bucktown bar Plan B. Whether you’re there to watch a game or get all decked out and enjoy a few cocktails, Plan B is an unpretentious bar where everyone is welcome and it’s first-come, first-serve. General Manager Matt Field says the appeal of Plan B is that it’s always a fun, reliable choice, whether you’re looking for a place to start or end your night. The bartenders are friendly and without attitude and the beer is served ice cold from frozen taps. The music is mostly a mix of 1980s-1990s crowd pleasers and a DJ spins dance music every night starting at 10pm. You might find guys playing video games on the couches or girls dancing on the pole that separates the main bar area from the more private lounge area. Among the weekly specials are $2 beer cans on Thursdays and thirty-cent wings on Mondays. Plan B’s mixed drink and shot list offers choices from a watermelon martini that comes with a slice of watermelon to the signature “Motorboatin’ Son of A Bitch” shot. The food menu goes above and beyond your average bar fare and offers choices from the Plan B Fondue to “The Heart Attack,” a beef burger with fried ham, bacon, Swiss cheese and hot sauce. Red and black light fixtures and gothic chandeliers accent the ceiling and glossy black leather couches provide a comfortable spot to relax. Graphic designer Maureen Noone, 24, says Plan B is “unique to the neighborhood” and that in an area where new bars seem to come and go every week, she would definitely revisit.

When you’re in the mood for an “ultralounge,” the meatpacking district might not be the first place that comes to mind. But believe us when we say that stylish lounge Lumen is a breath of fresh air amidst the industrialization and factory life of the West Loop. Manager Anastasia Smith says that the West Loop area was a great choice for Lumen because the “area is so progressive.” Located at 839 West Fulton, Lumen lives up to its name with vibrant, chic lighting that accents the bar without overpowering. The DJ area is only visible behind a thin, rectangular opening on the left wall, which adds to Lumen’s aura of sophistication. The colorful, pulsating lights on the ceiling go perfectly with the music, which is upbeat and melodic and accentuates the chill, social ambience. There are no seats at the bar, but there is plenty of room to sit in the spacious, open lounge area. Elegant decorative touches such as vases of white gardenias decorate low-to-the-ground tables and the long, plush velour couches are perfect for sitting back and sipping a glass of wine or one of Lumen’s organic mixed drinks, like the green tea vodka tonic. If you’re looking to unwind after a long day, finish the night with an after-dinner drink or start your night with some cocktails, Lumen is the perfect choice.

Partying like a celebrity just got easier and a lot more fun with the opening of Manor in the heart of downtown Chicago. The upscale “super lounge” at 642 North Clark will make you feel like you’ve left the Midwest and entered an A-list party at the estate of an heiress. The velvet ropes outside the entryway and the studded black doors are your first indication that you’re in for a posh evening. The bar showcases top-shelf liquor and is decorated with avant-garde artwork of European mansions. DJs spin rap and R&B favorites while girls in black lingerie and fishnets stand on platforms and dance to the pulsating beat. The VIP area is the place to be—if you can swing it. The elegant black leather booths and dark wood tables are filled with a well-dressed crowd that loves to party and offers the ultimate privacy. Bottle service is a popular choice, with just about anything you could want to drink. If you’re in the mood to celebrate, order the Veuve Cliquot champagne, which is served with a New Year’s Eve-style sparkler on top. Manor does have a cover charge, but it varies, so call ahead to find out. Make sure to get yourself on the guest list, because you won’t want to miss a party like this.

Plan B, 1635 North Milwaukee, (773)252-2686; Lumen, 839 West Fulton, (312)733-2222; Manor, 642 North Clark, (312)475-1390

Klemen’s Crusade: Funky Buddha owner takes flight with Butterfly Social Club

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By Jenn Danko

“Did you eat yet?” asks Mark Klemen from the back entryway of Funky Buddha Lounge. The sun slices through the hallway as Klemen slinks in clutching two plastic bags of fruit, nearly twenty minutes late for our meeting. A noon yoga class, followed by a routine stop by the organic Sunflower Market, put he and girlfriend (and organic culinary goddess) Verda Okmen so behind schedule that they didn’t have time for lunch.
“I brought fresh plums and dates… I even washed them right at the market because I knew I wasn’t going to have time to grab anything,” he says, placing the bags on top of the bar.
Klemen’s low voice rumbles through the day-lit confines of his brainchild, Funky Buddha Lounge, making the dark walls and leopard-print barstools look loudly intrusive at three in the afternoon. Donning a straw-laced ball cap and black zip-up fleece, Klemen’s 6’3” frame is a lean eulogy to his eco-conscious lifestyle. The sheen of his eyes contrasts all artificialness of fluorescent light inside his River West lounge, while his angular face naturally glows.
“I opened Buddha on my twenty-first birthday, back in 1996,” he says, leaning one arm against the bar. “It was really like a 21-year-old’s idea of what a club should be and it’s grown up and changed with me.”
Part of that eleven-year evolution included Klemen expanding his mission to enrich the city with better-quality—and better-tasting—food and drink options. The end result is Butterfly Social Club, a 1,500-square-foot space nestled against the cozy confines of the popular Funky Buddha Lounge. Its grand opening will coincide with Earth Day on Saturday, April 21.
A project two years in the making, “Butterfly” (as Klemen calls it for short) is an inspired vision steeped in nutrient-rich cocktails, honey-fermented wines and a few thousands pounds of mud.
“Everything inside Butterfly is built from local, natural and recycled materials—from the construction of the walls, to the booths, to the speakers encased in recycled wood…we wanted to create an environment that feels and sounds good,” Klemen says, his eyes pierced with an exuberant intensity.
Butterfly’s opening coincides with a slew of Earth Day celebrations over this weekend, including a few events located at both Buddha and Butterfly. Klemen says his involvement in the “green movement” is all part of a greater vision for living a healthier, more complete life.
“As we know better, we will do better,” he says. “We will become attracted to, consume and exercise that which sustains us and helps us on our quest to be fully realized human beings. We recognize that we have won a genetic lottery simply by being here and we intend to celebrate it responsibly.”

Klemen admits he wasn’t always responsible in his celebratory matters.
Although he says he didn’t have his first hangover until “well into my twenties,” it was at that point that he began to take a step back and look at his lifestyle decisions.
“In the beginning, I was a natural for the [nightclub] business,” he says. He bought the Funky Buddha space from his brother after dropping out of Northwestern University, despite his straight-A average. “It cost less than a year’s worth of tuition and I fixed it up for less than it would have cost to graduate [two and a half more years later],” he says. “Once I decided I would not be a lawyer, doctor or architect, I convinced [my parents] and myself of the merits of ‘experiential education.’”
Soon Klemen found himself freely immersed in the sexy charms of Buddha’s allure. His club instantly attracted a diverse camp of nightlife revelers who were more interested in having big fun than nursing big egos. “I loved late nights, not sleeping, meeting all kinds of people and experimenting with fine alcohols. I took full advantage of my position,” he says.
But as Buddha boomed, so did Klemen’s party-friendly lifestyle. Eventually, he took a step back and examined the toll his late-night living was taking on his mental and physical wellness. “I decided to do something about it,” he says. “Having some time and resources, I began to explore ways of improving my health and combat the depression that I was undergoing as a result of not really believing in what I was doing and not taking care of myself properly.”
While Buddha celebrated the vision of ethnic and racial diversity Klemen craved following his world travels in the 1990s, it was failing to uphold some of the more ecologically savvy and health-conscious standards Klemen upheld. He went back to his roots, examining his travels from the previous decade and researching systems of spiritual, herbal food and exercise. He took classes and certification courses in yoga, Chinese herbalism, raw foods, fasting and cleansing and Taoism, to name a few.
The first steps he took in restoring wellness and order to his personal and professional life was refusing all tobacco money inside Buddha (although Klemen admits he did sell American Spirits for a brief period). Then he invested “heavily” in a cleaning filtration system and made his VIP room smoke free. “At one time I owned and operated this place without air cleaning and selling Camel cigarettes,” he says, motioning around the room. “One day it dawned on me…I was in the basement with a bunch of the bartenders and they were all smoking and I was like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ I knew at that point it was taking its toll.”
Klemen says he was tired of people mistaking him for 33 when he was only 23. He was tired of eating nothing but McDonald’s for eight days straight and scaring himself as he watched his stepfather die of lung cancer.
“At some point, our habits catch up with us,” he says. He was ready to make a change.

Butterfly Social Club began crafting its cocoon two years ago, nurtured with idealistic care from Klemen’s evolving organic philosophies. “I conceptualized it as a way of getting me back to the roots of [Funky] Buddha,” he says, leading me through its entryway. Upon entry, an overwhelming sense of coolness settles over the skin, while earthy wafts of mud flood the air.
“What you are smelling is earth,” he says, directing us toward the bar in the middle of the space. Behind it, a mural of an ancient Mayan pyramid frames the center of the bar. The walls are bathed in warm tones of peach and yellow, evoking the essence of a Costa Rican sunset. The only noise inside the lounge streams from a mud fountain bubbling near the front entryway. Eventually, the fountain will house an energy bike that will provide a portion of natural energy to the space.
Chef Verda Okmen, who joins us on the tour with a plum in her hand, says that all of the walls, booths, doorways and the DJ booth are crafted from an ancient mixture of straw, mud and clay. “Even on the hottest days it stays cool in here all day long,” she says.
Designer Miguel Elliott (also known as “the mud guy,” according to Klemen) crafted Butterfly’s entire mud-based look, creating tree trunks and branches that jut from the walls and are adorned with fake leaves. The rounded benches and stones are warmed up with velvety pillows while ancient Mayan artifacts adorn the walls. Butterfly’s design is so steeped in ancient mysticism that mud-made “magic” mushrooms sprout from the top of the DJ booth, creating a magical sense of realism inside the space.
“My inspiration behind the mud design is that I was looking for a way to curb the sound in here,” Klemen says. “I wanted this room to be like a womb—a cocoon.”
The arched doorways—framed by mud-made tree trunks—act as a sound insulator, Klemen explains. It could also be the largest continuous mud sculpture in the world, according to Elliott. The club’s sound system, designed by local sound juggernaut Howard Windmiller of Sound-Bar fame, features speakers encased in recycled wood, giving their placement a natural feel amidst the crush of fake greenery.
“All of the materials we used in its building are eco-friendly materials,” Klemen says. From the mud garnered from local excavation sites to the Mica glittering over the mud-made booths, everything is connected to the natural flow of the earth—including the bathrooms.
“Each of the four bathrooms represent the four elements of life—fire, earth, water and air,” he says. And all are pointing in the proper direction, framed by both an eagle and condor taking flight over the doorways.

Klemen sees Butterfly as an opportune doorway leading people to make healthier lifestyle decisions. Don’t compare it to an oxygen bar, a tea room “or any other term I’ve heard thrown around out there,” he says.
“Ultimately, Butterfly is my opportunity to make a living doing something healthful for people that raises awareness and inspires positive action and change.”
That means serving a menu comprised of nutritive and herbal-based creations both alcoholic and non-alcoholic in nature. Chef Okmen crafts a variety of “superfoods” including the sensational “Berry Happy Chocolate,” made with raw Ecuadorian chocolate, Peruvian maca root, Tibetan goji berries, green grass powder, Celtic sea salt, agave and raw honey. One taste had me tearing through the rest of my four-piece serving in seconds.
“These are creations that are so healthy for you, you shouldn’t feel guilty about eating them,” Klemen says, and notes that desserts is actually “stressed” spelled backwards.
Butterfly’s culinary and beverage philosophies revolve around one-hundred-percent organic principles. Everything served from behind the bar is “uncompromisingly organic,” crafted from fresh fruit and sourced from bottled spring water.
One of Butterfly’s flagship drinks promises to surpass the energizing effects of Red Bull (“Sketchy stuff,” Klemen quips). The “Roots Rocks Rasta” is meant to be a natural alternative to the daily Starbucks jolt or energy drink meltdown. It includes a cocktail of natural herbs, including rainforest-grown yerba mate, Hawaiian Mamaki tea, wild chaparral and a Tibetan elixir for energy. The infusion, served with or without organic alcohol, prices at $6 and $10, respectively.
Other creations include unpasteurized, unfiltered apple cider, “one of the few bottled products I actually trust,” Klemen says. Despite its 4.8-percent alcohol content, he says he would “give his child this before he gave them a bottle of apple juice.”
Dubbed “The Enchanted Apple” on Butterfly’s cocktail menu, the beverage mixes organic Illinois Apple Cider infused with cinnamon, anise, nutmeg and sassafras with Vanuatu Kava Kava.
Also on the menu: an array of honey wines (traditionally known as meads), rounded out with Big Island honey to create “raw living fermented beverages,” Klemen says. Other drinks, such as the “Berry Happy Goji Ginger Tea,” blend spring organic ginger, spring water and Tibetan goji beers and sweeten it with raw honey. The brew will be served with or without the alcoholic punch of pomegranate wine.
The versatility of Butterfly’s drink menu will allow the venue to be open for both daytime and evening hours. Klemen hopes that people will see his herbal pick-me-ups as an alternative to Starbucks. In the evenings, Butterfly will focus more on its alcoholic creations, with the help of downtempo lounge music and muted lighting.
“It’s going to be a constant work in progress,” he says, standing in the middle of the space.
Beyond the physical venue, Klemen hopes to make Butterfly Social Club a social network that will promote eco events and field trips. He envisions hosting raw-food potlucks, trips to botanical gardens and retreats to organic farms. Additionally, he will sell all foods and products used in Butterfly’s cocktails or connect customers with a supplier for the best deals.
“Healthy food is not only for the wealthy,” says Klemen, who has been wholesaling products for himself for the past ten years. “It has been, and still is, difficult to source most of our products…and the ones that are available at Whole Foods are expensive.”
But Klemen isn’t about to let a few partially hydrogenated obstacles hold him back. “I would much rather feed people what I eat when I get home as opposed to, say, the hotdog vendor.”