Just as AJ Liebling first penned in 1952, is The Second City of Chicago always destined to follow New York? When it comes to our cocktail scene, the nightclubs and lounges below give the Big Apple a run for its money—even without the $100 million bonuses:
According to Chicago Bar Project contributor Cindy Kim, the posh space on the fringes of Old Town can best be described as "pretty space, pretty people—if you actually get inside." Opened in September 2005, Enclave is #1 with people not having to pay cover and, while there's plenty of grumbling, there's never a lack of people lining up outside in foul weather to plunk down their $20 cover to get into the 20,000 sqft. of decadence inside. Want to go all in? Book Booth 30. Enclave owners also run the champagne-soaked "ultra lounge" Cuvee on Erie.
A lumen is the standard unit for the luminous flux or radiant power of a light source. In the Chicago nightlife world, Lumen's 5,000 square feet are matched by 5,000 LEDs illuminating the club in over 16 million colors. A bit smaller than its rivals, Lumen makes up for it with its flowing luminescent space, progressive urban sound and incredibly low furniture, though you'll only have a seat there with reserved bottle service or if you make some new friends. Not bad for an old meat-packing plant.
One of Chicago's most popular clubs is also one of the largest, measuring 20,000 sqft. of cocktail goodness. Having survived being shut down for over a year following a decadent opening night (and operating without a license), Sound-Bar stays true to its name with a different soundtrack, color scheme and vibe in each of its many rooms. Variety is the spice of life.
Bon V is short for "bon vivant" in French, meaning a person with refined taste, especially one who enjoys superb food and drink. You'll find numerous, diverse Bon Vs at this 7,500 sqft. club, including co-owner Casey Urlacher and his slightly more well-known older brother, Chicago Bear #54 (and inspiration to a recent Studio 54 party).
Having reinvented itself from its original gothic house scene, Crobar now leans more towards techno and has become one of the elder statesmen on the Chicago club scene since opening in 1992. Pass through its signature, white-tiled tunnel and you'll find a huge dance floor, glass-enclosed VIP space and other touches evoked from the club's other locations in Miami and Buenos Aires.
Is Cover Just for Wannabes?
Yes. Those in the know—and not just the ladies with low-cut necklines—will get in for free or a dramatically reduced charge by finding secret codes in the "Events" section of nightclub promoter websites like Velvet Rope, Entice Chicago and Exact Events. Otherwise, get there before 10:30pm or pay the $20+ cover as part of the great unwashed…
When in Boystown...
What about Chicago's most sexually "adventurous" nightclubs? (read: gay) Chicago Bar Project contributor Angie Berthelsen weighs in: though Berlin is older and more well known, there's something for everyone with Spin Nightclub and its warren of rooms. "Either lov it or hate it, but know that even the haters can be found at Spin on a Saturday night."
For Latin Lovers, Goths & Bachelorettes
Don't forget Nacional 27, Carnivale and Rumba for the Latin lovers, while Neo—a gothic nightclub intriguingly located in Lincoln Park, inspiration for Keanu Reeves' character in The Matrix and Chicago's oldest nightclub having opened in 1982—welcomes all and summons your inner Al Jourgensen. Finally, for you maids of honor, the first floor Cabaret at Excalibur is calling your name with test tube shots in hand…
The Chicago nightlife scene: proving clubbing isn't just for baby seals anymore!