1983 N. Clybourn Ave. (1950N, 1200W)
Chicago, IL 60614
Zella is the current manifestation at the corner of Racine, Armitage and Cortland, replacing the recently departed Moran's. Now, instead of a meathead sports bar, Zella is an upscale meat market. Thank God they didn't f@#* with the magnificent beer garden.
Just down the street from Jack Sullivan's and around the corner from Shoes Pub, Zella is a refuge for all-black wearing patrons with money to burn. Step up into this triangular bar, past the leering glance of the doorman, and into this sterile hardwood floored, exposed brick den of pretension. Take a seat at one of the small wooden tables with white tablecloths and little white candles, or pull up a chair at the small front room bar. Here you can enjoy a variety of foo-foo specialties, most costing more than $15 per entree.
If the front room is too crowded, head under the black velvet drapes to the spacious back room. Here you will find a nice, long wooden bar on your left, the ever-present Golden Tee (strange to find in a "club"), an ATM, several couches and a fireplace.
From here, there are several French doors leading to one of the best beer gardens in the city. Larger than Sheffield's acclaimed outdoor area, Zella's has not changed anything from when it was owned by Moran's: there are trees, plenty of places to sit, wooden fences to block out the noise from Clybourn and Racine, and there is even an outdoor bar.
With its loud, screeching dance music (but no dance floor), Zella needs to figure out what it wants to be: a club or a restaurant. The place would be much better if it were a restaurant by day, and a club after 10:00 p.m. They could clear away the tables to create a dance floor and, with the strobe lights going, the place could be a lot more fun.
While Moran's was not my favorite place, it was a good sports bar where, if the game didn't keep your interest, the fights every 20 minutes at the pool table would. Moran's is the only place I've been to where a girl was thrown out for punching a guy in the face, twice (by the look on his face, I'd say he deserved it). Michigan and Steelers football fans, don't worry – you can still catch games at Duffy's and Joe's respectively.
While Zella is a nicely decorated bar, it has as much character as a telemarketing sales rep. Zella's is a place where you will be sized up, and more than likely, scoffed at by everyone from the doorman to the bartenders to other patrons. My recommendation: check out the beer garden on a summer afternoon or weeknight. Otherwise, head over to the Liar's Club or the Drink for a better club scene; and there are countless restaurants serving better food and offering better service. For more information, check out Zella's website.
"Are you fabulous? Are you dressed to thrill? Do you want to drink and feel like you're heading down a runway? No one here is too friendly but they're not too distant, either – they're just posing, strutting and doing their turn on the catwalk (metaphorically, of course)."
– Centerstage Chicago review [Editor's note: that says it all, doesn't it?]
"I HATE Zella. I was actually there three weeks ago (no decision of my own) and there was a reunion of Southern universities. Y-A-W-N. So we picked up name tags, posed as Auburn grads and tried to blend. Unfortunately, my husband showed up to find me wearing a nametag that said Betty trying to convince some Auburn guy that I dated him back in the day but had lost 120 pounds since which is why he didn't recognize me."