Most people I know save barhopping for summer, when the temperature agrees with crowds and the night air rumbles with tension, with perspiration, with sex.
I drink in winter. The shedding of winter dress upon entering a dark and musty room feels like abandoning the torture outside. Rooms are empty, tables thin. You get to know your bartender. You’re the only sad bastard within range.
I have a half-dream of someday opening a tavern called Scar Bar—“scar” as in “emotional scar,” not “physical scar,” though bikers will always be welcome—where the soundtrack consists solely of Joy Division, The Smiths, Velvet Underground and Elliott Smith. You get it. When I heard the people behind the old Thursday night dance party at Neo were opening a bar in the Logan Square area, the neighborhood where I live, and they had the audacity to call it Late Bar, I was terrified. Terrified because I can actually imagine the Planet Earth people improving on my inevitably out-of-reach fantasy.
I exhale as I walk into the room. Nine o’clock on a weeknight, the bar’s mostly empty. A DJ spins to a deserted dance floor. Late Bar works a black-and-purple color-schemed motif—the bar’s long and swanky, 1920s-era photography adorns the walls. At roughly Belmont and Kimball, the spot is technically in Avondale, resting in the middle of a long stretch of brown urban tundra. Open until 4am tonight, it’s sure to fill up later—reports indicate that on opening night, the day after Christmas, the line to enter was around the block by 10pm—as the new late-night hipster hotspot gains steam. A couple walks in and they immediately congratulate who can only be Dave Roberts, a DJ and co-owner.
Yes, there are giant mirrors. In Scar Bar, no mirrors. You can’t stand to look at yourself.
I like to think I know the city’s taverns, but glancing at Metromix’s recent list of their choices for the top ten new bars of 2009, I’m perturbed I haven’t been to any of them. Maybe I’m too old to be bouncing around to unfamiliar places. Shit, it’s January, and I certainly feel old.
Further east on Belmont at the Hungry Brain, my friend and I are literally the only people in the bar save for the bartender. A very quiet night. We take the single booth on the south wall—my favorite seat in my favorite bar. The speakers have The Walkmen and Frightened Rabbit. We tell the bartender about our trip to Late Bar. She hasn’t heard of it. She wonders why the location is so far west on Belmont. A shot of Maker’s and out the door.
Terrible cold, bracing wind, maneuvering home. Another winter in the saddle. Always wondering what these new bars are all about. (Tom Lynch)