3418 N. Southport Ave. (3400N, 1400W)
Chicago, IL 60613
"Chicago style – New York attitude"
Sopo is a rather unassuming but tasteful "New York-styled lounge" that has become part of Southport Avenue's second revitalization in 10 years. Back in the early 90s, a series of trendy restaurants and bars opened up along Southport Avenue that included Bistro Zinc, Red Tomato,Cullen's, and Stregna Nona. This collection of establishments remade the neighborhood in an image similar to that of East Lakeview and even parts of Lincoln Park. After a bit of a lull during the late 1990's, Southport has experienced yet another evolution. Now it's Mystic Celt ,Coobah , Rise, Messner's, and Sopo. Each offers neighborhood denizens and visitors upscale fare in a somewhat more sophisticated environment, while Sopo packs in area pub crawlers.
The lounge known as Sopo opened in March 2003 and can be found across from Coobah and the Red Tomato, and next to Einstein Bagels. The space used to be inhabited by the Korean restaurant known as Amitabul that specialized in vegan fare. Sopo's black awning hangs over their sidewalk café that in summer merges with that of Einstein Bagels and Ann Sather's forming a small sea of people enjoying the weather. Step through the door and you'll find a modest barroom with a hardwood floor, a few wooden cocktail tables up front overlooking Southport through a garage door-like wall of windows (kept open in warmer weather), and a couple of tables along the southern wall under a framed oil painting. Across from this lies a smallish wooden bar that tends to get choked with patrons that spend less time bellying up and more time eyeing each other. Ceiling fans and smallish yet ornate chandeliers hang from above. Towards the back of Sopo, you'll find a trio of plush, oversized booths elevated along the south wall that are separated from the front room by a short wall with a wooden ledge for cocktails. Wooden posts hold up the ceiling all the way in the back, above a few more low-slung tables, a DJ-booth and exposed brick walls. This area also plays host to the occasional private party but really isn't large enough to serve this function adequately. The bathrooms can be found along the north wall, towards the kitchen.
Most people stand in the front room because there aren't many tables and the place is small. This causes the area to get a bit crowded but it's good for mingling—and that is why you come to Sopo. Expect lots of leather, midriffs and Axe in the air. Those in t-shirts and tennis shoes need not apply. Overall, there's not a whole lot inside except rather attractive women and the men looking to meet them, so if that's not what you're interested in you'll be bored to tears. On the other hand, Sopo does play films on both flatscreen televisions on either end of the bar (instead of SportsCenter). I caught part of Purple Rain, when Apollonia Kotero walks out of the lake, topless. Magnificent. Loud-ish, clubby music rounds out the ambiance.
If you're hungry, Sopo offers a limited, reasonably-priced menu chock full of paninis that is virtually the same as that at sister bar Matisse. When you're in the mood for a snack, Sopo suffices nicely especially because of their daily specials, but don't expect to be served quickly. You might also need to wait even if you see empty tables as Sopo, surprisingly, accepts reservations. For dinner, I would personally recommend Coobah across the street instead – head to Sopo for drinks afterwards as their drinks menu is more compelling than their selection of food and Sopo offers the same selection as Matisse: chocolate, macadamia, apple, raspberry, Cocotini, etc. If you want something not on the menu, don't be surprised if they can't make it.
There's really not much to Sopo. It's yet another New York-styled franchise holding ("Sopo" instead of SoHo), brought to you by the same people that brought you Bar Celona and Lot 48. Maybe that's why I had such a hard time remembering its name in order to do this review... Sobo, Popo, Bobo, Sopa (as it's spelled on the title bar of their website)... On the other hand, there's beauty in simplicity and Sopo is a pretty slick joint that attracts neighborhood Metrosexuals on the prowl especially when the place gets packed after 7pm (kind of like a tiny version of nearby Belly's). If you like this place, you may also like Avenue Tavern, Soiree Bar Bistro, or Northside. For more information, check out the Sopo website. Eat well, drink better