1622 W. Belmont Ave. (3200N, 1600W)
Chicago, IL 60657
With the XTC song "Bungalow" strangely creeping through my head, I think of the Bungalow Loungebar. In June of 2002, Bungalow opened, providing a sophisticated yet relatively unpretentious lounge in a neighborhood that desperately needed one, particularly now that the Tiny Lounge is but a memory. While Bungalow doesn't have a kitchen, it still offers an impressive menu of the liquid variety served by some of the best bartenders in town. Frankly, I don't know why I'm not in there every weekend.
In some ways, Bungalow stands in homage to the Prairie Style of Frank Lloyd Wright. The first evidence of this can be found along Bungalow's facade: the horizontal lines from its basic rectangular shape, to the plate glass windows, the brick along the side, the black-painted wooden slats next to the doorway and "Bungalow" scripted in cursive above it. Once inside, the earthy orange and brown tones recall Wright's dining room in his former home and studio in Oak Park. A long, cherry wood bar that would make the owners of the Long Room jealous runs the length of the eastern wall, above which hang rectangular wooden fixtures covered in paper and emitting an orange glow. An art deco barback, with three ancient metal cash registers and orange back-lit beveled glass, frames a series of mirrors along with all the trendy vodkas you can think of and more. A number of black, backless barstools offer plenty of seating at the bar, as does a number of comfortable, low crescent booths along the west wall and and a plethora of low-slung cocktail tables stretching from the front windows overlooking Belmont Avenue all the way to the rear where you'll find a few funky 30's-era tapestries. In the middle of the room is a fireplace framed by slatted wood, with a few smaller free-standing tables in front of it for those needing to warm their weary bones. Get there by 10pm if you hope to get a table, particularly towards the end of the week. In classic Prairie Style, the stone ceiling grooved with vertical lines and a wide wooden part extending midway down the room from east to west elicits the feeling that you are close to the ground, which some can find a bit claustrophobic if too low but that is not the case at Bungalow. An aisle with a backlit, wooden slatted divider separates the bar area from the seating, but also features a place where those standing can place drinks, which I think is a nice touch leaving plenty of space for all. The Wright-ian theme extends even into the horizontal lines even on the votive candle holders, napkin holders, hanging orange lights, and even the metal on the bathroom door handles! (found in the northeast section of the bar).
Bungalow Loungebar does not serve food, though the bartender produced some hard candy and a handful of fortune cookies one night, but rather focuses on the cocktail arts. Personally, I love bars that have drink menus, the king of which is Hala Kahiki in River Grove, and Bungalow does not disappoint. On the contrary, Bunagalow's award-winning "Mixologist" by the name of Chad Johnson has created a variety of concoctions that are going to make it a significant challenge to walk out of the place sober. In fact, Bungalow offers 15 martini varieties plus a new creation each month, such as the "Raspberry Key Lime" made with Stoli Raspberry, Liquor 43, a splash of fresh lime and cream, and "The Ruby" made from Ketel One Citroen, PAMA Liquor, cranberry juice, and house sparkling wine, both of which were featured in August 2006 at the time of this writing. I'm not an avid martini drinker, but even I took note at the "Pumpkintini" featured in the Fall and the "Bungalow Blonde" made with vodka, Limoncello and sweet & sour. In recognition of his unique abilities, Chad Johnson, who some claim to develop award-winning cocktails without even having to taste them, was selected "Bartender of the Year" in 2004 by Metromix.
An impressive array of ale is also featured at Bungalow with over 30 in all. I've tried Cooper's Sparkling Ale (Australia), Tusker (Kenya) and St. Peter's Old-Style Porter (England). Bungalow also features Old Style (Wisconsin), a must for the local crowd (at least the super local crowd, i.e. me), and a nice variety of up to 25 different wines by the glass. Nightly specials are available. Camel cigarettes are also sold behind the bar – there is no cigarette machine, ATM or Golden Tee for that matter. A few TVs can be found at either end of the bar, which are turned down almost all the time.
A DJ booth can be found in the northwest corner of Bungalow, where DJs spin a mellow blend of lounge electronica that I believe has been scientifically found to aid in the consumption of alcohol and the enjoyment of others at Bungalow. Though many might still be on the prowl, the atmosphere is warm yet trendy atmosphere – an unusual combination – and there's never a cover at Bungalow.
Overall, you'll find an excellent attention to detail at Bungalow, evidence of which can be seen everywhere: in the promotional cards handed out with the checks, in the music piped into the bathrooms, in the overall spotlessness, in the complimentary parking available (after 6:00pm) in the public lot just off of Lincoln at Melrose (one block north of Belmont), and in the bartenders' manners the latter of which has previously been thought to be an oxymoron.
A Pleasant Lack of Courtesy
>What exists today at the Bungalow Loungebar is a far cry from what came before it: Courtesy Liquors a.k.a. "Courtesy Tap." While I never had the pleasure of enjoying a beverage in the warm confines of Courtesy, Paul Berile wrote this in Barfly's Guide to Chicago's Drinking Establishments (2000):
"I want to point out that I am the kind of writer that does to great pains to find the good in every bar that I go into, whether for business or pleasure. So don't expect me to focus on the fact that the urinal is chained to the wall in the men's room. I am also not going to dwell on the fact that the prices are a little too exorbitant for a place that offers as little as this place does. The place is actually quite big but the space is currently not being utilized very well. Tina [the bartender] says that the owner is going to move the pool table and bring in some dart machines which should attract a wider variety of clientele. This will, hopefully, coincide with having beer taps installed so that the patron does not have to keep walking to the cooler to serve themselves."
I've also learned that Courtesy Liquors attracted a construction worker crowd that started coming in at 7:00am, like at Egan's today further to the north. The place was also a liquor store selling package goods up front, in addition to the bar and pool tables in the back. Most notably, however, was that the urinal in the mensroom was actually chained to the wall... why? The chains were there for a reason, that's all we know here at the CBP...
"A cozy orange glow and vertical lines inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright draws hip yet laid back condo-dwellers from the southeast quadrant of Roscoe Village. Formerly a dive with urinals chained to the wall now features a trendy mellow vibe with DJ-infused music, and an intriguing selection of brew/martinis – the Pumpkintini is phenomenal and is served through Thanksgiving."
– yours truly as featured in Time Out Chicago
Aside from the establishment's predecessor, all of the above tends to attract a well-dressed crowd, mostly in their late 20s who live within a $6 cab ride radius, as well as the occasional Chicago Shakers Social and Adventure Club Party. If you like Bungalow Loungebar, you'll probably favor nearby Bourbon, Lennox Lounge and Long Room as well. In recognition of its achievements, Bungalow was recently anointed one of the "Best Bars in America" by Esquire Magazine in June 2006, and ranked #5 for Best Lounge in the Best of Citysearch: Chicago 2004. The owner, Jim Higgins also of Club Lucky, has even sponsored AIDScare and Toys for Tots events at Bungalow. Do you need more reason to not only have a drink at Bungalow but also to become a regular? I think not. For more information, including a complete drinks menu, check out the Bungalow Loungebar website. Until next time, drink up, Cap'n.
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For those of you wondering what a bungalow is, Wikipedia describes it this way: "A bungalow is a type of single story house. The word derives from Hindi word bangla from 1676. It literally means a house 'in the Bengal style.' Such houses were traditionally small, only one story, thatched and had a wide veranda. Bungalows today are a type of house that is usually single story or one and a half stories, and can be quite large." Wikipedia goes on to describe the Chicago Bungalow, a distinct style all to its own, as this: "The majority of Chicago Bungalows were built between 1910 and 1940; they were typically constructed from brick (sometimes in decorative patterns) and had one and a half stories. At one point, nearly a third of the houses in the Chicago area were bungalows. One primary difference between the Chicago bungalow and other varieties is that the gables are parallel to the street, rather than perpendicular. Like many other local homes, Chicago bungalows are quite narrow," (Editor's Note: the narrowness of the Chicago bungalow stems from the narrow shape of the traditional Chicago lot size).
Luxury accommodation traps the sun
So we're working every hour that God made
So we can fly away
Saving it all up for you
– lyrics from the XTC song Bungalow