Few bars have something for everyone. Bottom Lounge comes close. With features including an extensive beer list, eclectic live music lineup, expansive main bar space, upstairs tiki bar, rooftop deck, free parking (!), and a free Blackhawks shuttle, Bottom Lounge instantly goes to the top of my list.
Unless you’re a west Loop resident, the Bottom Lounge’s main drawback is getting there. Located along Lake Street beneath the green line “L” tracks, the immediate area is still largely industrial and, at night, borderline desolate. The Ashland green line stop is only two blocks west, but I would advise anyone, especially the ladies, to employ the buddy system when heading home after a few beverages. If you’re set on driving, Bottom Lounge does have a free lot on the east side of the building and, if that’s full, street parking is possible, but heed the numerous parking restrictions.
The three story brick and glass building that houses Bottom Lounge spent its previous life as an auto body shop and some of that grittiness is retained in the understated façade. Still, the bar is impossible to miss, as it’s easily one of the largest bars in the city—along the lines of Joe’s on Weed Street, but with 90% less douche bags inside. Have your ID ready when entering. As the concert space in back hosts many 17-and-over shows, being carded is a virtual guarantee.
The interior retains the semi-raw feel of a warehouse turned bar, with largely bare brick walls along the sides and a high ceiling with exposed structural beams, track lighting hung via a series of crisscrossing wires and one of the largest ceiling fans I’ve ever seen. The service bar, small for the size of the space, runs along the back wall with ample table seating in front and a more formal dining area with booths on the northwest side of the main floor.
When not closed for private parties/special events, the second floor contains a 5,000 sqft. tiki-themed Volcano Room, which specializes in rum-based concoctions. Next to that is a 2,000 sqft. rooftop deck that offers some excellent skyline views.
It’s best to peruse the chalkboard beer list before ordering. By my unofficial count, the 18 taps and 81 cans and bottles give you 99 ways to quench your thirst. Brews range between $3-12, with most setting you back $4-5. There are a number of wines available by the glass, plus a fairly impressive whiskey selection. When you add in the fruity cocktails upstairs, Bottom Lounge has plenty of liquid refreshments to please both sexes. One down note: other than the domestic “bum beer” at the low-end of price list, there are no drink specials to speak of.
The Bottom Lounge menu is short and to the point, with a range of reasonably priced bar/bistro offerings and a number of vegetarian/vegan selections. So, “Opening Acts” can vary from soft pretzels to smoked whitefish cakes and “Headliners” can go from burgers (beef or black bean) and falafels to mussels and an intriguing St. Ambroise steak pie. Though I did not have the chance to sample the food, which I will rectify shortly, I can attest to the nice-sized portions and tempting smells that passed by. Nothing on the menu is priced over $11.50, so you can easily enjoy a meal and still splurge on that bottle of Chimay Grand Reserve you’ve been dying to try. Another plus, the kitchen stays open until 1am Sunday and Wednesday through Friday, and until 2:30am on Saturday.
Since it opened in 2008, Bottom Lounge has quickly become one of the best indie music venues in the city, filling a void that’s been present since the beloved Lounge Ax got the ax. If you’re there for a show, sidestep the bar and head straight back on your left, past the coat check. Beyond a set of black steel doors is a rectangular SRO concert space, with a raised stage along the western wall and room for 500-700. There is also a VIP skybox overlooking the stage that can be reserved for private parties up to 20. The relatively large size allows Bottom Lounge to book nationally known acts on occasion, as well as literally hundreds of emerging artists. Music is featured 3-4 nights a week from many diverse genres including alternative, jazz, hip hop, psychobilly, power pop… well, you get the picture. Cover charges and age restrictions vary, so check the Bottom Lounge website.
To some extent, the crowd at Bottom Lounge varies, depending who’s on stage that night or what event is being hosted—after-parties hosted by the Windy City Rollers (ladies roller derby) can get quite spirited. Overall, a mildly alternative-bohemian air prevails, with a very even male-to-female ratio spanning several decades. Big crowds, an aggressive soundtrack and the space itself all lead to a high-volume experience. As mentioned, a complimentary shuttle to and from Hawks games is offered, but Bottom Lounge is closed on Mondays, so check your tickets.
If the bar’s name sounds familiar, that’s because Bottom Lounge used to be located in Lakeview—the concert room adjacent to Lakeview Links—until the CTA red line reconstruction forced them out in 2005. The new Bottom Lounge may still be next to the tracks, but this is one sequel that in most ways is better than the original. If you like Bottom Lounge, check out nearby Cobra Lounge, Lincoln Tap Room in Lakeview and Subterranean in Wicker Park. For more information visit the Bottom Lounge Website. Rock on.