Editor’s Note: Deja Vu is gone, alas! Who will I curse for my two-day hangovers now? Oh god, it might be Tai’s… Deja Vu was reformatted into “Rockhouse” with a nightly live band shtick and is under the same ownership.
“If you think you drank here before, then drink again”
The “Vu.” For those in the know, this simple word conjures up some powerful images: turtle races, dive bar, debauchery. Over the years, Deja Vu has gone through numerous openings and closings. Today, the ‘Vu is owned by Ala Carte Entertainment, the same people that brought you Lion Head Pub, The Apartment, Excalibur and Vision Nightclub, Full Schilling Public House, Finn McCool’s, Cadillac Ranch, Snuggery, and Leg Room. That explains the advertising for these other establishments displayed on the south side of this ornate, three-story, turreted red-brick structure known as the Lauf Building, originally built in 1892. These new owners have gotten rid of the turtle races, dressed up the bar with new signage, interior, upstairs lounge, and in general, have elevated the bar’s status from complete dive to swanky meat market.
The Vu is open from 9:00pm until 4:00am and used to be open 365 days a year but now is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. On weekends, the line forms after 1:00am, so expect to wait up to an hour to get in. As you’re standing within the velvet ropes watching all the VIPs enter the bar without waiting, grab a 3-day old hot dog from the 7-11 next door and have a chat with your fellow partners in crime. When you get closer, make sure you have your ID ready as you don’t want to piss off the doorman unless you want to wait even longer or be refused. The place gets so busy, that they have a cash register just inside the door where an uninterested woman will take your $5. Then you are ready to enter this black and white linoleum, drinking and dancing den of iniquity.
Los Bandoleros and Sliders
The first floor sports exposed brick walls adorned by a smattering of rock & roll posters including Jimi Hendrix and Iggy Pop, and a tin ceiling supported by several thin black poles (you can run but you can’t hide). There are a few tables on your immediate right, in front of the windows covered with wooden blinds. The bar is to your right, complete with red, purple, and yellow beveled glass behind it and Daily-like globe lights hanging above it. The rest of the first floor serves as one big black & white linoleum dance floor, which gets very crowded and is plagued by a constant flow of traffic (be prepared for elbows). On Fridays, local bands play on a narrow wooden stage against the north wall. Every other night, DJs mix it up after 10:00pm, and generally play pretty decent dance music. To the left of where the bands play there is a beer tub complete with wench. While Deja Vu does not have a menu, you can wash down a couple of White Castle cheeseburgers heated up from the microwave behind the bar. The bathrooms are located near the stairs on the first floor. As you’re going to the bathroom, never mind the service entrance there – more on that later – and head upstairs as the large neon sign beckons forth to “The Other Room.”
The Other Room
At the top of the stairs lies a smoky labyrinth, which actually consists of more than one room. To your right lies a beige-painted, track-lit room with another bar, high-backed barstools, a couple of cocktail tables, and a few televisions. At night, the tables and stools are cleared out to create a tiny dance floor out of the red and black linoleum floor. Because of the limited space you’re bound to get elbowed at every turn, so head downstairs if it’s crowded. Otherwise, head past the upstairs bar and you’ll find a larger, wood paneled room filled with plush coaches tiny, candle-lit cocktail tables and maroon carpet. Beyond this area is the red-painted front room offering the same setup as its antechamber. The scene up here is somewhat more laid back and conducive for snogging.
The crowd both upstairs and down consists mainly of upscale sleazebags (including myself, without the “upscale” part) with leather coats and cell phones, and a wide variety of women looking to dance and hand out their phone numbers. It’s not a bad mix, as there always seems to be someone to dance with, without much air of pretension. Perhaps that is because most patrons have the same thing on their mind (ummm, hmmm).
The Seventh Slap
One night, a bunch of us headed to the ‘Vu as the final stop to a torrid night of drinking. As we were ordering drinks at the bar, one of my closest friends went looking for the bathrooms with the girl he was “dating” at the time (read: shagging). Instead of leading to the women’s bathroom, he discovered a door leading to the service entrance. As they both walked through, they noticed that, all of a sudden, they were alone. Within seconds her panties were off and they were going at it against the wall, hammer and tongs. They returned about 15 minutes later with evasive looks on their faces. As the night continued, my comrade then began dancing with a “friend” of his that happened to be a cute blonde girl. As they danced, they got closer and closer and closer. Before actually kissing, the first girl had enough and ran out in tears. I then stepped in-between the two in an attempt to stop these shenanigans before reaching the point of no return. After pulling his head out of his ass, which took a full 10 seconds, my friend left to find the first girl. He found her sitting outside on the curb, crying. When he sat down next to her to apologize, she slapped him in the face not once, but six times. On the sixth slap, he said, “I think that’s enough.” This was followed by, “Oh, you think that’s enough, do you?” *Slap* (#7). Through her tears she asked if he could get her some Kleenex. As another sign of what an upstanding gentleman he is, he ran straight into the 7-11, grabbed some napkins and bought a pack of condoms. Once she dried her tears, they went back to my place (yes, my place – he was squatting there for a month) and shagged some more on my air mattress as if nothing had happened. Can you feel the love? The air mattress had to be burned afterwards.
Think You’ve Experienced Rejection?
It was also here at Deja Vu where two of the best rejection lines were heard. A friend of mine known as “McGaction” received the first as a resounding, “No” while playing a round of Golden Tee. This solid denial was brought on by the girl’s excessive inebriation as it was 3:30 a.m. The second rebuff was, “You know what? Don’t even bother,” when McGaction simply said, “Hi, my name is ____ and this is my friend ____,” (actual names withheld to protect the guilty).
The building that houses Deja Vu has stood since 1892, and has served as a brothel, taco stand, various bars, and has been Deja Vu since 1983. The Vu was then purchased and remodeled in 1997 by Ala Carte Entertainment. While the insipid nature of Deja Vu persists despite changes in ownership, big band music on Tuesdays and turtle races on Wednesday nights have gone. The turtle races went like this: the one who could guess which turtle would win the race fastest would take home $25. These turtle races were so notorious that once when a turtle fell off the racing table, the bar was accused of animal abuse by a patron, and the story was covered in the Wall Street Journal and mentioned on the Late Show with David Letterman. For turtle racing fans, do not despair for Big Joe’s up on Foster hosts a heated competition every Friday night. Deja Vu was also involved in the Blue Moon Incident.
It’s Like Deja Vu All Over Again
The present incarnation is the best yet of Deja Vu, being a transformation from concrete and particleboard to trendy club and lounge. This is a far cry from its predecessor Donna’s, described as: “A friendly New Town addition to the music scene. Jazz, R&B, rock & reggae from 9:30 every evening. No cover or minimum,” in Marilyn J. Appleberg’s I Love Chicago Guide (1982). When all the other bars shut at 2:00am and you’re still searching for that special someone in Lincoln Park, head to the Vu for some late night action. It’s like deja vu, all over again.
[back to the Chicago Bar Project]
Photograph taken by Carla G. Surratt of Picturing Chicago
Out with the old: