The Chicago Bar Project had the pleasure of steppin’ out to a South Side live music venue immensely popular with those living in the Grand Crossing neighborhood. It’s true that we don’t make it this far south that often, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check it out as part of the Chicago Blue Tour. We found an eclectic crowd, some very entertaining performances and some surprisingly good fried chicken.
As you would guess, the club is located just east of the Dan Ryan Expressway on 79th Street. East of the Ryan is actually located in the base of the hotel by the same name, which explains why it has a bit of that Best Western lounge vibe – but no chain hotel has what East of the Ryan has… Enter the bar through a plate glass door and you’ll find a large rectangular room with gray carpet and a white drop ceiling. Small white cocktail tables featuring waitress service and a mix of banquet hall and low-rider armchairs are spread along the gold-speckled south wall with its plate-glass windows overlooking the small parking lot through brick archways. A curving wooden bar with mirrored backdrop runs along the north wall, above which is a ceiling tiled with mirrored panels within a raised gold portion and hanging light fixtures of a funkadelic sort.
East of the Ryan doesn’t have a kitchen, but on the night we were there, a group of ladies were selling a fried chicken wing dinner with french fries for $6 served in Styrofoam cartons – all of which was quite good. We even saw that the promoter/keyboardist made an announcement while holding a half-eaten chicken wing.
Speaking of music, that’s what it’s all about at East of the Ryan. The “stage” is the parkay floor located in northeast corner of the room, through which actually lies the bathrooms, almost in Underground Wonder Bar Style, with a jukebox separates the men’s from women’s. A curious note about the mensroom: the urinals are a bit high, so if you’re 5’5″ or shorter, you might have to stand back and arc it – just remember not to cross the stream with your dwarf buddies.
On the night we visited East of the Ryan, we saw a blues band where the lead singer, Manuel Arrington, sang and walked through the crowd with a wireless mic ala L-Roy at Linda’s Place. That night, East of the Ryan was one of the bands featured on Chicago’s annual Blues Fest and the bar’s inclusion in the periodic Chicago Blues Tour, organized by Chicago’s “Blues University.” The Blues Tour that year also made stops at Alcock’s, Linda’s Place, 1213 Club, Rosa’s, Quencher’s, and the House of Blues. East of the Ryan has also been featured as part of the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s annual club tour held during the Chicago Jazz Fest, which also made stops at Andy’s, Jazz Showcase, Green Dolphin Street, Hideout, Green Mill, and the now-defunct HotHouse, just to name a few. When they don’t have blues or jazz, you’ll find the lively, predominantly over 30s black crowd stepping the night away in lots of fur and fedoras.
If you’re not from the area, you’ll definitely want to drive as taxis are not to be found on the street and public transportation at night is not a good idea as the neighborhood is pretty rough. You can get there by taking the Dan Ryan to 79th and head east for about four blocks. There’s a lot out front but you’ll only find a spot if you get there early. So, when you get that South Side mood comin’ on, head down to East of the Ryan and you will be sure to find a wealth of entertainment.