The Damen Bar & Grill was one of the first establishments that led to Roscoe Village’s rejuvenation in the 1990s. In league with the Village Tap, Ace (also defunct) and the Four Moon Tavern, the Damen had a trendy yet casual atmosphere, conducive for lounging.
The Damen featured a maze of candle-lit rooms, a big-screen TV tuned to a classic movie station around the clock, a few pool tables, and jazz floated in the air. Live jazz could also be heard on Thursdays, and the band from the Blue Man Group used to play on Wednesdays. The look and feel of the Damen was a welcome departure from its previous incarnation as Gasthaus Zum Lowen – a bar described in The Official Chicago Bar Guide (1994), as: “They seemed friendly, but the poster of Hitler bearing the legend, ‘When I come back, no more Mr. Nice Guy,’ tells you everything you need to know.” They also noted that the single most outstanding feature of the bar was, “People saddened by the outcome of WWII.” Shortly after the Damen opened, in 1997, the whole bar was renovated from its former VFW hall-like look, to a red-hued bar reminiscent of today’s Marquis Lounge.
The Damen was also notable for its selection of upscale pub grub that included brick-oven pizzas, pasta, polenta, chicken, seafood, and steak entrées. Of particular note was the “white seafood pizza” that included calamari, baby octopus, shrimp, roasted peppers, and chilies. This menu was the brainchild of Jeff Ehrlich, who served as the Damen’s general manager and was formerly the pizza cook of Tuttaposto and toxicologist for Amoco.
“I liked The Damen before the brick-oven pizza, when it was ‘The Damen Avenue Bar & Grille,’ and the back room had four pool tables, a big screen TV, and looked like a frat house basement, without the backwards-baseball-cap frat guys.”
– J.M. (March 26, 2003)
Sadly, the Damen is gone. But do not despair. The Damen has been replaced by an even trendier bar called, the Red Wine Room, under the same ownership. While an actual wine bar has replaced the pool tables and the classic movies are gone, the Red Wine Room has successfully built off of the Damen’s legacy with its casual ambiance and funky décor. In the Red Wine Room, followed by Riverview Tavern, the spirit of the Damen lives on.