Holiday Club

1471 N. Milwaukee Ave. (1450N, 2100W) Chicago, IL 60622
R.I.P. 2003

Editor’s Note: It is with great sadness that I have to report Holiday Club has closed. While Holiday Uptown continues to operate, in what used to be a soup kitchen, Salud Tequila Bar specializing in those made only with blue agave has replaced the original location.

“Swinger’s Mecca”

Since 1993, the Holiday Club has been a Wicker Park classic, and like no other in town. The goal of the Holiday is to recreate the 50s and 60s Vegas lounge scene for “a slice of sunny Las Vegas in shivering Chicago.” The bar is decorated with lots of swing memorabilia, tiki on Sundays, and musical favorites that your parents like. Overall, it is one of my favorite bars in the city.

Holiday is located at corner where Honore dog legs to the west to form a right angle with Milwaukee. Just look for the flashy “holiday” sign above the maroon awning, and large plate glass windows surrounded by glass blocks. Step inside past the bouncer and you’re in. If you want some food, have a seat at one of the chrome-trimmed, black Formica tables to your right. While you are waiting for your food, have a look at the Holiday Club Wall of Fame, complete with pictures of loungy celebrities running along the wall. Seating is also available to your left on the plastic covered, orange and black tiger-striped banquette, just below the funky martini glass-peppered wallpaper. It was on this very banquette that I observed a woman taking off her panties to give to someone and swinger Vince Vaughn was spotted. There is also a good outdoor sidewalk seating area in the summertime.

“Chicago’s Liquid Playground”

The bar runs along the south wall and is decorated with such mementos as pictures of Frank Sinatra, the “Swinger’s Mecca” sign, “We’re glad you’re here” beer coasters, a lighted Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis sign, and a picture of a black woman with giant bazongas advertising Pabst beer ($2 on Tuesday). The bar offers a good selection of ales, including Miller Lite in bottles shaped like bowling pins, as well as martinis, Cosmopolitans, and whatever mixed drink you like. Across from the bar is one of the bar’s two pool tables.

Beyond the front room is a hallway where you will find the crowded bathrooms, ATM, and kitchen. There is also a photo booth that costs $3 and appears to only accept quarters. Past this hallway is the back room, which is often reserved for private parties until 10:00 p.m. If you’re fortunate enough to get in, you can have a game of pool, play some Golden Tee or Millipede, grab a table, or pull up a stool at the back bar. This back bar transforms into the “Bamboo Lounge” offering tiki delights every Sunday night. Known as “Rip Curl,” you will find $10 flaming tiki bowls that comes with four straws, walls adorned with bamboo, tiki masks, plastic palm trees, plenty of leis, surf guitar filling the air with music, and drinks in coconuts with paper umbrellas.

“Smack-dab in the middle of Sinatra’s Vegas living room”

“Chow time” at the Holiday consists of an eclectic variety of upscale pub grub, including hummus, chili mac, chicken satay, salads, grilled portabella sandwiches, chicken kabobs, pulled pork sandwiches, chicken BLT pizza, and grilled cheese for the financially challenged. Waitress and bar service can be hit or miss, so you may need to be patient. The jukebox at Holiday is also notable for its intriguing variety of Rat Pack favorites and selection of Clash, Tom Jones, Public Enemy, Trini Lopez, Naked Raygun, Bert Kaempfert, and Dead Kennedys albums. The jukebox was even voted into the Audience Top 10 in Citysearch: Chicago’s Best Jukebox for 2001 poll. The variety comes from owner Tim Juliusson’s personal collection, and is made up of over 100 CDs. On several occasions, favorite songs of mine that would never be played on the radio were heard at Holiday.

While at one point only catering to an older cocktail-seeking crowd, the current scene is a mixture of funky neighborhood folks and yuppies, reflective of the changing neighborhood demographic. Younger patrons often only know as much about lounge culture as they saw in the movie Swingers, but can be somewhat educated at the Holiday. The place gets crowded around midnight, so get there early or late, and there’s never a cover charge.

Photograph taken by Carla G. Surratt of Picturing Chicago

The Holiday Club is the only bar in Chicago that advertises in movie theaters (seen as part of the slide show preceding films). I find this amusing because the place has such good word of mouth notoriety that it always draws a good crowd and doesn’t really need to advertise at all. In fact, the Holiday was one of 12 bars in Chicago rated Four Mugs (highest) by The Official Chicago Bar Guide in 1994, was named one of the Top 13 Places to Party in Chicago, 2000 by Nightclub & Bar Magazine and was selected one of Digital City’s Top 10 Best Bars for 2002.

My recommendation: take the Madonna tour by stopping at Holiday, then Border Line up the block on Milwaukee Avenue. Nick’s across the street is also a good stop for late night action. If you find yourself farther north and in the mood for Holiday but you don’t want to pay the $10 cab fare to Bucktown, you can now head to a second location of Club Holiday at Sheridan and Irving Park (very close to the recently opened Nick’s Uptown). For more information, check out Holiday’s Swinger’s Mecca website. And remember, you ain’t got that thing if you ain’t got that swing.

“Come swing with us”