There's little doubt that Villains adds a different spin to the Printers Row bar scene. With a stellar beer list, edgy urban look and club-like entertainments, Villains acquits itself nicely. On some other counts, however, Villains is guilty of a few misdemeanors.
While the main Printers Row drag runs down Dearborn, Villains is located along a more isolated stretch of Clark, between Harrison and Polk. The low visibility locale is perhaps why the previous occupants—the Butcher's Dog, from the folks behind Pepper Canister—are the previous occupants. Look for the Villains small storefront entrance on the east side of the street, with a gangster-esque mural painted over the brick façade and an under-sized black and yellow sign hanging above the door. Parking in the area is as rare as an honest Chicago alderman, so either take public transportation or be prepared to fork over $11 for parking across the street.
Enter a small vestibule where the ATM is located and then into the bar itself, comprised of a single, long room that's narrow in front and opens up in back. More often than not, prepare to show your ID to the doorman, who may or may not be wearing eyeliner and black nail polish on your visit. Black is the dominant color in the design scheme as well, along the walls, the ceiling, the exposed ductwork, and the faux-antique wallpaper. A few paintings, rotated from various artists, provide a splash of color. There are a number of flat-panel TVs, but these basically function as artwork too. The picture may be on, but the sound isn't. The bar itself has room for 20 or more, with some seating along the opposite wall, but the most room is in back, where there are additional tables, booths and a small open area between the skull-encrusted DJ booth and the seldom used pool table.
Villains doesn't have the largest beer selection in the city but its impressive selection is only surpassed by its quality. Only nine of the 70+ brews offered are on tap, but each is from a high-end American craft brewer or a small label import. Almost two dozen Belgian beers are offered by the bottle, many of which I've never heard of or sampled—and I've been to Belgium. The micro brew list is equally impressive, so even the most jaded suds snob should be able to find something appealing. Some of these rare beers come at even rarer prices, but Villains does have a few intriguing specials like Burger & Beer Monday nights with half-price burgers, $2 domestics and $3 imports and Revolver Friday nights with $4 micro beers. There's also something called 420 Tuesday with half-price appetizers, as if they expect their customers to arrive with a case of the munchies. Hmm...
Villains claims to offer, "Burgers so good they should be illegal," but I have not yet tried one to pass judgment. Otherwise the menu covers most of the bar food basics, though the vaunted burgers are oddly more expensive than the entrées.
Take one listen and you can tell Villains is going beyond the neighborhood tavern for a lounge-club vibe. One look at the acoustic foam on the wall above the bar will confirm it. You can also practically tell the time by the BPM (beats per minute), booming from the DJ booth. Retro-industrials faves from the 80s-90s give way to full-on house-techno as the night wears on, all played at a volume that encourages leaning in to hear and be heard. Resident or guest DJs provide most of the entertainment, but Villains will host the occasional live jazz act and even a burlesque show now and then. Space can become precious on the weekends, when the crowds make moving around difficult. Still, you'll find impromptu dance floors spring alive when room allows. The primarily sub-40 crowd reflects the more diverse nature of the near south side and individuals range in style and dress too numerous to describe.
Service? On my first visit, the female bartender couldn't have been friendlier or more helpful and this was a fairly busy Friday night. On a more recent visit, a fairly busy Saturday night, the male bartenders were a little more aloof. While the bartenders played double-duty as servers (what? not 1 cocktail waitress), their time behind the bar was spent playing that game familiar to every bar goer: the "I'm so busy that if I look just above your head and don't make eye contact, I don't have to serve you" game. That brings me to Villains' 2 most serious crimes, which hopefully can be rectified before final sentencing.
When is a pint not a pint? When you wait ten minutes to get 12 ounces of draft beer in a 16oz. glass. I've seen short pours before, but $7 pints shouldn't be served this poorly, ever. I snapped a photo of this atrocity for the world to see. It was easier, and quicker, than demanding a top-off from the bar. When do two $7 pints cost you $15.33? When the price on the menu doesn't include tax. Not including tax in the listed drink prices is something you might expect at a hotel bar, but not at any self-respecting Chicago establishment. Villains, fix this practice or next time I'm coming with a pocketful of coins, so I can pay for each round with exact change. That'll show 'em.
With that off my chest, I can still strongly recommend Villains for beer lovers, dance music lovers and those looking to meet their next lover. If you like Villains, you may want to check out Smart Bar, Cleo's or, if you're ready for a gothic dance club experience, Neo. Visit the Villains website for more information. You have the right to remain funky.