With few exceptions, sequels rarely live up to the original. In film, Godfather II, The Color of Money and Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo come to mind. For bars, it’s more difficult. It’s certainly hard to compare Holiday Club in Uptown with its Wicker Park predecessor. Though Chicago’s “Swinger’s Mecca” shuttered back in 2003, it remains an all-time classic. For a generation of bar-goers who never stepped foot in the cozy, intimate original, however, the current Holiday Club offers a glittering gateway to retro nightlife, with enough history of its own to be considered an innovator, not an imitator.
You’ll find Holiday Club a half-block north of the Sheridan red line stop at Irving Park, a scant four blocks from Wrigley Field, but still well outside the primary Wrigleyville bar scene. The bar occupies a one-story commercial space that once operated as a soup kitchen and that was added decades ago to a hulking brownstone apartment building, which contains some architectural flourishes rarely found in newer construction. Simple hooded lights look down upon a golden wind sign, which shimmers in the breeze. A small sidewalk cafe runs along the eastern facade, but it’s hard to recommend this noisy, high-traffic location for a relaxing drink, unless you’re a smoker, and even then, take a few puffs and step back inside.
Step into a sizable square room that looks, to its benefit, like a 1950s-era bowling alley bar mugged a tiki bar. A checkered tile floor, vinyl benches and round, backless stools combine with cocktail-themed light covers, tile-encrusted posts and an assortment of antique trinkets to create its vintage look. On either side of the door are increasingly retro-looking golf and deer hunting video games. An undersized pool table sits strategically between rows of tables, creating a danger zone where a cue to the ribs is a distinct possibility. A few TVs are scattered about, but the old school jukebox is a better bet. And for those looking for a one night stand, you’re in luck. Not only does Holiday Club have the beverages to lubricate social situations, you’ll also find a rarely seen condom machine in the bathroom and a black & white photo booth in back, perfect for remembering who you were with when you wake up the next morning in a bathtub full of ice with a note thanking you for your kidneys. Beyond the main room lies a darker, red-hued lounge, which opens to the general population at 10pm for a variety of nightly events including karaoke, open mic night and disco dance parties.
Holiday Club’s beer list is ample, but won’t win any awards with six draft selections and 18 bottles/cans. Serious beer drinkers can find options worthy of consumption, but the best-selling brands here are cans of lightly-carbonated yellowish liquid favored by those looking for the cheapest route between sober and buzzed. Though martinis are considered a specialty of the house, Holiday Club is a bit more Big Lebowski than Madmen. And as if to prove my point, the most popular mixed drink leaving the bar on a couple of recent occasions was the White Russian, a fact that would make “The Dude” proud. I’ve been to Holiday Club many times, but for various reasons I’ve never eaten there. Suffice it to say, the menu is filled with standard and vegetarian comfort-oriented bar fare that, with the exception of pizzas, runs under $10. $5 dinner specials are offered nightly and to entice the cost-conscious cocktailer, drink specials are available seven days a week—and weekend drink specials are rare in this neck of the woods.
Holiday Club attracts a faithful following that has made the place an old-timer on the scene after a decade or so. Supplementing the regulars, a good segment of their clientele rotates every few years, as people cycle through this apartment-heavy neighborhood. This keeps the crowd on the younger side, generally under 35, and under 30 when the dancing begins. Holiday Club is open 6pm-2am Monday-Friday, 3am Saturday and 10am-2am Sunday. If you’re up for late-night action, head across the street to Nick’s Uptown.
With its fiscally frugal specials, no cover charge entertainment and nostalgia-inspired surroundings, Holiday Club may give you reason to celebrate. If you like Holiday Club, you might want to pay a visit to Tonic Room, Orbit Room or be adventurous and check out Neo. If you want more information, check out the Holiday Club website. Go-Go Daddy-O!
Author’s note: As of this writing, Holiday Club owner Timothy Juliusson is currently serving a year in jail for felony tax evasion related to personal and payroll tax offenses.