The North Loop is to the Warehouse District what New Coke was to Classic. We're not really sure if it's a good move, but what are we gonna do? The powers that be have spoken. Progress, man. But the places that have survived the gentrification, the yuppification, the fancy beerification of the Warehouse District are like cockroaches after a war. Resolute and stalwart. Mad respect to these fine establishments for standing firm. Without them we'd drown in a sea of polished steel and blond wood.
The phrase "strip club" can have many meanings: classy joints where Ms. Texas lookalikes with beauty-queen coiffures take the stage in evening gowns, rhinestones, and shoulder length gloves. Deja vu is not that. Or divey places where bored behind the eyes dancers silently hate you for being alive. The Vu isn't that either. Instead, it's some cross section of the two, an off-brand Vegas casino meets your DJ brother's basement. Most of the women neither exude "I should have been a model" nor "Life is a cruel mistress," but instead tend to be athletic businesswomen with an agenda. Treat them nice, and they'll do the same. No booze is served here, but in exchange, you get the full monty. And you said you wanted to go to a strip club, didn't you?
And if you can't imagine hosting a strange woman upon your lap without a few nips of liquid encouragement, Cuzzy's is just a g-string toss down Washington, a drinking establishment that is exactly that, and nothing more; putting on no more airs than a lady who gets naked for a living and has the bank account to prove it.
In fact not taking its namesake from the medicinal liquor that inspires you to try to wear your stilettos on your head like a hat, but instead the last name of ownership. This diffident little edifice is actually a super cool haunt far enough afield to avoid anybody wearing a spangled T-shirt or a man bun. Surprisingly decent drinking nibbles like pub pretzels and German potato salad offer a base for the tight list of beers you'll want to swig next to the outdoor fire pits as the nighttime air grows more chill.
Long before the whole city went apeshit for Italian, Bar La Grassa was rolling a million pastas by hand, importing good, sturdy dry spaghetti from the motherland, draping the Caesar salads in good, fat, briny boquerones and filling ravioli delicately, magically, with raw egg yolk. As they approach seven years in business, they're showing no signs of stopping. The lengthy, dramatically lit open kitchen is nothing if not a grand theatrical stage. Go and watch as the chefs glide from one end to the other, on a wave of masterful skill and "oo" flour.
The gentlemen of B'Witched could have done anything. Matt Bickford and Mike Ryan are two serious chefs with a serious yen for a sandwich. Their mission was to put high cuisine in between two pieces of bread, and that's exactly what they've been doing for some seven years with New York-style pastrami, tuna confit, house smoked ham, an egg salad striated with sweet and hot peppers among a chef's compendium of soups, salads, and sundry other brilliant inspirations.
Part honky-tonk, part juke joint, a little bit dive, Lee's Liquor Lounge has survived the imminent threat of ballpark parking lot scares, hipsterfication, and and the general scouring of the area. Lee's is an integral sliver of downtown's realer underbelly — the pawn shop, the homeless shelter, the bridge underpasses. Cash only, and if you're hungry then maybe a bag of Frito Lays? This is a drinking place only; if you want some organic hummus dip, then you know where you can go.
So venerable it's almost unbelievable it still exists, the Monte Carlo is a century-old grande dame practically unfit for you to step inside with your filthy Keds. The whole of it would be right at home in a museum of American history, but unbelievably, they'll still host you in your dungarees on their hallowed stools for a sidecar and a Kitchen Steak Sandwich with horseradish on Pumpernickel. Also: chopped liver, shrimp cocktail, a turkey club, and other basic, elemental things that will not and do not go out of fashion, no matter how high a square footage of loft space soars.
Remember when a coffee shop was a place to get a cup of coffee? Maybe a muffin? Maybe a fried egg sandwich? Moose & Sadies is that cafe of plainer, less technological times, back when you could have a coffee and a chat and maybe even a cigarette with a buddy without checking your screen 19 times and multitasking; because a cig and a black coffee and a donut is enough to juggle at once, thanks. Scratch cooking by Susan Muskat, one of the original names behind the Birchwood Cafe, is here, serving her simple, signature "really good food." And sure, you can still bring your computer machine, but remember that the place has lasted 25 years, all the way back to when a wifi connection wasn't a twinkle in anyone's eye, so maybe a latte without Facebook wouldn't kill you just this once.
So obfuscated it's practically a speakeasy without the smug. Tucked beneath the Designer's Guild Building, Darby's is an everyman's drinking pub with ball cap-wearing barmen who have their priorities intact: The drinker and the drink are more important than they are, imagine. Bacon-wrapped tots are a signature menu item. Enough said.
A cool, reassuringly murky been-there-since-the-beginning-of-time music dive serving mostly brown liquor and ranch dip, but also practically lethally heavy doses of funk in the form of house band Dr. Mambo's Combo. No kiddie club this, the grown and sexy set comes together weekly to make like that Marvin Gaye album cover. Everybody's dancing shoes are welcome, from Stacy Adams to Fluevog's.
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