They say it's what's on the inside that counts. Yet, after spending some time at Citizen both inside and out, here's why I found the place to be "A Tale of Two Citizens."
Citizen is located in a narrow stand-alone, two-story building on Erie, past Orleans and at the western edge of River North. Upon arrival, you'll easily spot Citizen's most striking feature: its 5,000 square foot, split-level outdoor space. The main outdoor level, possibly bigger than the inside, runs the length of the building with a dedicated bar, flat-panel TVs and a collection of high-end patio furniture. Up the flight of steps that covers the bar you'll find the rooftop deck with a second outdoor bar, additional seating and a few more flat-screens. On weekends, you'll likely find many of the tables annoyingly reserved, so comfortable shoes are recommended. Outside, last call for alcohol comes by 11pm, but that's not a fault of Citizen's (city ordinance.)
That will force you inside the narrow rectangular bar, which Citizen describes as "sleek and modern" and which I describe as… meh [Editor's note: renovations are planned soon]. A smallish bar runs along the eastern wall, with a single large party table up front and a handful of booths in back leading toward the kitchen. Other than the flat-panels, the walls are largely bare and the plain white ceiling looks inspired by a hospital ICU. Entertainment is mostly of the social variety, with nothing but the TVs as a diversion.
A dozen beers are offered on tap consisting mostly of "old favorites." There are another 16 or so beers by the bottle, but the pricing scheme left me a little befuddled. A Bombay Sapphire martini will run you a reasonable $8. A pint of Shiner Bock will run you $6. That leads me to believe Citizen doesn't want you drinking beer. Deals are on tap every night of the week, but is a $15 domestic pitcher special really that special? That's your call. The menu includes the likes of salads, burgers, sandwiches. and wings, aiming to be a cut above regular bar food. The traditional Buffalo wings were not on par with some of the better efforts in the city, but the cracker-crust thin pizzas, or which I tried the European and Margarita [their spelling—it's Margherita—not mine], were quite tasty.
Service was a mixed bag. On my time on the deck, the "energetic" staff was friendly and efficient but once I settled in at the interior bar it took about four minutes to get the vibe that regulars were given preferential service and first-timers were given little service at all. Then again, I'm not dropping the bartenders tips five nights a week. The crowd is young, affluent and exuberant. Expect a largely well-dressed clientele in their 20s and 30s mixed with a few forty-somethings hoping for a taste of their Glory Days.
Opened in 2006, Citizen is the product of the majorly wealthy minor celebrity, Jimmy D'Ambrosio. "Jimmy D." also of Wet Nightclub and Suite Lounge, was featured in early 2009 on an episode of the Millionaire Matchmaker. Also a professional poker player, he struck pay dirt at the 2006 World Series of Poker, where his 175th place finish earned him $47K. And if the last name sounds familiar, it's probably because you remember his sister Nicole from the Apprentice LA and because you watch way too much reality TV.
If you're looking for a lively outdoor scene or a place to catch a Notre Dame game with fellow Fighting Irish fans, Citizen is worth a visit. If you like Citizen, you might want to investigate Kirkwood, Goodbar or the Wrigley Field bleachers. For more information, check out the Citizen Bar website. Cheers.
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