440 N. State St. (440N, 0E)
Chicago, IL 60654
Fans of the Lincoln Park and Division Street bar scene will be happy to know the Lucky Lady has filled a niche in River North for all your binge-drinking pleasure. Part faux-dive, part happy hour watering hole—with a little amateur live music thrown in—Lucky Lady's set up and message are as disjointed as their clientele, but overall it makes for a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
Lucky Lady, not to be confused with the now-defunct Pullman bar of the same name, is located on State Street in the same spot that the predominately gay piano bar Gentry occupied for 25 years. Perhaps accordingly, the owners, who are the brains behind such second-tier nightclubs as Manor and RiNo, felt compelled to add some female influence to their new bar's name. (I guess "The Raging Heterosexual" didn't have the right ring to it.) Other than the name, however, the vision for the bar seems a little blurry.
On some levels, it seems as if Lucky Lady's owners ran through their decorating budget and decided to open anyway. On other levels, it seems like they were shooting for the ultimate oxymoron, the "upscale dive," and fell a little short. Dives can not be created. They simply evolve, or devolve, with the passage of time, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. Lucky Lady is caught somewhere in the middle. They long to be a "beer and a shot" kind of place, but charging $8 for a shot of whiskey (more on that later) leaves them light years from any dive bar I've been to.
Pass the imposing bouncer and you'll enter an open square space, which also serves as a dance floor and audience space, when bands are packed onto the small window-front stage. To the right is a scarlet-walled room, which features a pool table. To the left is the elevated horseshoe-shaped main bar, the highlight of the space. An arched tin ceiling soars over the narrow room, giving a sense of space. Two antler chandeliers, which look like they were stolen from Will's Northwoods Inn, hang at opposite ends of the bar. In between is a crystal chandelier that would look more at home in the Palmer House. A smattering of vintage black & white photos of young ladies and a few animal heads dot the wall, and that's about it. (There's supposedly a basement lounge, with a rat pack filled jukebox and related décor, but I have yet to see it open.)
There are a dozen flat-panels clustered throughout, but their elevated mounts make them awkward for watching a three-hour game from most seats. Instead, catch a quick score and focus your attention on the bar staff. The young gals in Lucky Lady's employ favor tall boots and short skirts and there's nothing wrong with that on a windy day, or any day. In addition to the eye candy hustling behind the bar, oddly there are bowls of candy set out like you'd find popcorn at other places. In theory this sounds like a good idea, but beer just doesn't taste the same after a piece of Laffy Taffy. Stick some in your pocket for later and don't let a sugar high interfere with the buzz you came for.
In keeping with the dive bar aesthetic, you won't find any cocktails on the menu or a single beer on tap at Lucky Lady. Mass-produced domestics, as well as some micro-brews and imports are on hand, but there is little that will blow you away. Standard mixed drinks pleasantly come in over-sized 12oz glasses, but other than the daily specials, nothing here comes cheap. On a recent visit, I ordered two bottles of Guinness draft and for kicks added two shots of Jameson's whiskey to the order. The total for the round: $28! And that's not including the tip. There's nothing like the feeling of having to reach for a second $20 when buying a round for two people. Unless your pockets are deeper than the Mariana Trench, I'd recommend sticking to whatever's on special—$2 Buds on Thursdays for instance.
Reminiscent of other downtown bars, Lucky Lady's crowd seemingly changes by the hour. You'll find all kinds, but there is a palatable pick-up scene here if you bring your A-game and the overall vibe is far less stuck up than you'll find at most other places in the area.
Lucky Lady does add a welcome change of pace to River North. The staff is hot, the beers are cold and crowd is, more of less, just right. If you're looking for a true value dive, I'd recommend Rossi's Liquors located just down the street. For something a little more refined try Brehon Pub or Clark St. Ale House. For more information, check out the Lucky Lady Facebook page. Until then, "Luck be a lady tonight."