Sunday night’s a stern nine degrees outside, but the 100-plus patrons at Big Star beam like crazy at the unconscionably fashionable new spot right by the Blue Line’s North and Milwaukee stop.
The ceiling of the late Pontiac Café is cut through by eight or more skylights, and emptied out by daylight, its simple box might resemble Blackbird’s simplicity that requires an ever-moving throng for the room to come to life; notably, the players here include Blackbird partner Paul Kahan, as well as other contributors from avec, The Publican and The Violet Hour, just across Damen to the west. Like the Rainbo Club to the south, it’s panopticon-style: there are no obstructions to the looking and being looked at, unless you count the fine small tacos in front of you, notably the De Panza, two bites of crunchy braised pork belly that would make a fine final meal along with a two-liter bottle of Dr. Pepper, using the bar’s Kold-Draft ice cubes. “Super-fresh” is a phrase that rolls off Kahan’s tongue, and along with Buck Owens-style country on the turntable, it’s a daydream of a roadhouse, bare walls, dim bare bulbs dangling overhead.
But we have seen it before: here is The Scene. Where simple satisfactions beget smug expressions in a neat new spot’s white-hot moment. All the familiar faces and a wealth of 23-year-old women in their college hoodies chow down. Other night, a friend burbled drunk into another bar, bragging on the “Hud”: Elmer T. Lee craft bourbon with bitters, muddled with Tangerine. He was swooning, hardly standing. That seems the right state in which to imbibe Big Star. Still, come spring, summer, the huge patio will be legendary. A ruckus. Bourbon and beer and tequila. And mezcal. There will be mezcal. Gentlemen, turn those baseball caps around now! (Ray Pride)