Most of us are familiar with Le Passage, Red Dog, Excalibur, and other frequented Chicago nightclubs whether we've been there or not. But few outside of Northwest Chicago have ever heard about Jedynka: Polish disco extraordinaire since 1993. Where else can you go to enjoy a bottle of Żywiec, bikini contests for, and flirt with the best Eastern Europe has to offer. While Jedynka features some of the same pretension that you'll find at any other club, at least it's a different brand and toned down somewhat. Here, first and second generation Poles hobnob with those from the Old Country and other adventurous city dwellers. All come to get there groove on, swill Polish vodka and marvel at more multi-colored leather pants than you can shake a stick at. At Jedynka, you're not in the U.S. anymore...
Located on Diversey, just west of Central Avenue in the Belmont Central neighborhood, is Jedynka (pronounced ye-deen-ka). Belmont Central is a decent neighborhood, but you're not going to find many cabs around so, while I can never condone drinking and driving, taking your car is probably your best option. Street parking shouldn't be a problem to find and there are also a few private lots in the area where you can park for free. When you get there, don't let the cartoonish logo and the 60's white-painted brick fool you. Inside Jedynka, you'll encounter 10,000 square feet of serious clubbing, but only after you make it past the five bouncers in white shirts at the door, only one of which speaks English and all of whom strictly enforce a dress code of "proper attire required." For those of you who've spent too much time at Joe's, Cubby Bear or Barleycorn's Wrigleyville, that means no gym shoes, hats or tank tops. After 10:00 p.m., fork over your $5 cover (you gotta love those Eastern block prices) and, if you don't have a black leather jacket, check your coat just inside the door. One night when I was there, I was actually forced to check my Timberland jacket to avoid "problems with the police" something to do either with gangs or my poor choice of club apparel. Anyway, at least they were polite, though firm, in their request.
Where to Sit and What to Drink
Once inside, you'll find a large room filled with glass and brushed stainless steel, and dominated by a hardwood dance floor in front of you with two sets of stairs leading up to a landing and the DJ booth above it. To the right of that is a long, oval, Formica-topped bar that runs along the east side of the room. Here, you can grab a seat upon red-padded barstools, which offer a good view onto the dance floor located a few steps below, or you can grab a booth in front of windows overlooking the auto parts store across the street on Central. My recommendation: check out the action at the bar, where you'll also find such Polish mainstays as Żywiec and Okocim "O.K." beer. A note regarding Żywiec: this brew is far superior to Heineken, is only $4 and boasts a 5.7% alcohol content. While you won't find the usual domestic selection at Jedynka, you'll do just fine with Żywiec. Not a beer drinker? Don't worry about it. There's also what's called the "Absolut Bar" at the north end of the room. Although smaller than the main bar, this rectangular oasis serves almost any vodka drink known to man. It was here that I witnessed someone that actually purchased a bottle of Belvidere Vodka for $110. This was described as "a deal" to me because it would have normally cost $180 but "they know people." Well, in point of fact, they got more than just the bottle they also got a pitcher of ice, a jug of cranberry juice and a bottle of 7 UP. What a bargain... For those who are not drinking, are the Designated Driver, or for whom the Ecstasy has worn off and who are in danger of kidney failure, the "Espresso Bar" offers caffeinated delights at the south end of the room, just to the left of the front door. Additional seating can be found around both smaller bars and at cocktail tables around the perimeter of the dance floor.
Fog, "The Wheel" and a Holographic Nude
The dance floor at Jedynka really only gets hoppin' after 11:00 p.m. At this point, the latest in lighting, strobe and fog-spewing technology, mounted upon the ceiling, really starts to take effect when model quality Eastern European women start to make their way to the stage and tall Polish guys chase after them or ogle them from afar. At some point, each Friday night, the DJ will start making announcements for the evening's event. These events range from bikini contests to a search for "Hottest Mom" or the best Sex in the City look-alike. Personally, I was there for the last Friday of the month when all those with birthdays that month get in free and, if you arrive before 10:00 p.m., you'll have a chance to enter into a birthday drawing. If that particular day is your birthday, you'll also get a free bottle of champagne. Those selected in the birthday drawing get called up to line the stairs leading up and over the stage, and ultimately get a chance to spin The Wheel. For this lucky elite, you can win up to $1,000 (sponsored by Żywiec) or you could walk away with a coupon for a free haircut (sorry, no bowl of soup) "You can have your hair cut, your head cut, they'll take care of you." The only problem with this particular promotion is that it took about a half hour to rattle off all sponsors in broken English. At one point, I heard something that the emcee read from a card that was wholly unintelligible, followed by: "I don't even know what that means." Anyway, I was just glad the announcements were not entirely in Polish. Once the event is over, the dance floor becomes a throbbing ebb and flow of humanity to the latest Euro techno, as it does every Saturday night as well as during the week and even on major holidays. Sundays feature the "Euro Retro Party," which encompasses hits from the '70s and '80s, including Italo Disco, Trash Disco, Pop, and Wave. They even manage to pack 'em in on Wednesdays for Ladies' Night, featuring $2 drinks for the femininas. If and when you need a break from it all, just head into the carpeted lounge area in next room where they've moved out the pool tables, and relax in low padded chairs, set your drink on the tiny table in front of you and marvel at the tasteful nude holograph mounted upon the wall. Just remember: Jedynka closes at 2:00am every day except Saturday when it's 3:00am, so get there with enough time to take advantage of whatever you're after.
New and Old Polonia
Perhaps you might not have realized it, but Chicago has the second largest Polish population, behind only Warsaw. As such, the Chicago Polish make up the largest white, non-Hispanic, ethnic group in the city followed by the Irish and Germans. It all began in 1851 when Chicago's first Pole, Anton Smarzewski, escaped Prussian repression and got a new start by opening a small grocery store near Division and Noble streets. More followed and, before long, the intersection of Milwaukee (also known as "Polish Broadway"), Division and Ashland in Wicker Park became known as "The Polonia Triangle." In fact, "Bucktown," located immediately north of Wicker Park acquired its name because of the many goats kept by these Polish families in their back yards. Smaller groups of Polish settled on the South Side at 47th and Ashland, 32nd and Morgan, and 88th and Commercial. Later, a great influx of Poles came to Chicago to escape the "Germanization" of Otto von Bismarck, between 1871 and 1918, and came to work in Chicago's heavy industrial manufacturing plants and slaughterhouses while living in squalid Polish ghettos. As these families endured and made a better life for themselves, many moved north into Logan Square, Belmont Central, Avondale (a.k.a., "Jackowo"), Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Norwood, and Edison (information taken in part from Passport's Guide to Ethnic Chicago A Complete Guide to the Many Faces & Cultures of Chicago, by Richard Lindberg, 1996 more recent versions of this book have since been published). While some second and third generations have since "emigrated" out of the city and have blended in with suburban homogeny, most remain. In addition, many Poles still come to Chicago for a new start and to find work as janitors, carpenters and truck drivers. For these newcomers, as well as for those who have been here for awhile, Jedynka offers some familiarity in terms of people, language and the impressive volume of vodka consumption. It even offers the natives some interesting opportunities, like a second generation girl I once knew who said that she'd had at least three marriage proposals when the guys found out she was an American citizen, spoke fluent Polish and had a good job.
The Dangers of Savagely Hot Women
When you're not hanging out at Player's Club, check out Jedynka. While you won't find Polka here, you will find some smokin'-hot women, no shortage of men to buy drinks for the ladies, and a sea of Polish beer and vodka in which to immerse yourself. And guys, just remember: as "J.B." points out from his posting on Metromix, "Be careful though, most of the polish women like to dance in groups where you may think they are single, but will have their boyfriends watch above from the bar. It's kind of funny." To avoid such tracky-wearing, pager-toting meatheads, some subtle reconnaissance may be in order. If you do find yourself in the mood to roll out the barrel, be sure to check out the Polkaholics, particularly if they're playing at the Baby Doll Polka Club or Quencher's. Otherwise, head over to Jedynka and enjoy some of Polska's finest. If you like Jedynka, you might also want to visit nearby Cafe Lura, Jagiellonia Club, Janosik, Maryla Polonaise, New Polonia Club, Podlasie Club, Przy Kominku Club, or Watra. I can't vouch for any of these other places, so stick with Jedynka if you don't speak any Polish. For more information, a sampling of pictures and music from the club, and a listing of upcoming events, check out the Jedynka website. Na zdrowie!
"I am not polish. I say 'Daj mi dupee!!,' a hot Polska puts her arms around my head and we get a motel! Game, set, match."
Wolowe (July 2, 2005)
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