“Rock bar. Stage. Retro kitchen.”
Sprawling, slick, vaguely gothic and attracting a crowd that’s easy-on-the-eyes, LaSalle Power Co. has given the River North neighborhood a much needed jolt since the place opened on May 1, 2009.
LaSalle Power Co. is brought to you by the experienced bartrepreneurs behind Angels & Mariachis, The Central, Grand Central, Green at Grant Park, and English, the latter of which is within shouting distance just down the street. The bar is located on the corner of LaSalle and Illinois in the old LaSalle Street Cable Car Powerhouse building. The building was completed in 1887 and designated a Chicago historic landmark building in 2001. The building serves as the best preserved example of the power generating stations that ran, at the time, the nation’s largest cable car system. If the building seems familiar however, it may be because it has been home to several bars and restaurants over the last 40 years. From the 60’s through the 80’s the place was known as Ireland’s, a seafood restaurant that also had a few “by the bucket” specials. In the 1990s, Michael Jordan’s operated as the type of gimmicky sports bar that MJ himself would never step foot in. Most recently, the local Mexican chain Lalo’s made a go of it for the better part of a decade.
LaSalle Power Co. is quite simply cavernous. The 20,000 square foot venue spans three floors and is one of the few bars in the city which provides an elevator for those disinclined to use the stairs. An outdoor patio runs along the sidewalk in front of the main entrance and wraps around on Illinois Street, which offers the more desirable seating. Step inside and you’ll find a hostess stand, if you’re interested in getting a table. A wrought iron staircase leads up, with the main bar area to the left. (Elevator to your right.)
The first floor bar consists of multiple levels, with the main area sunken a few steps and an elevated row of seats along the south wall that’s perfect for people watching. The interior consists of ample lounge-like seating, with an abundance of exposed brick, lofted ceilings, rock & roll handbills as wallpaper and a series of funky chandeliers. The look on the whole is vaguely post-gothic. Picture something between Interview with the Vampire and Rocky Horror Picture Show. But given the rock club aesthetic and retro vibe of LaSalle Power Co., the look works. You’ll also find a couple of over-sized flat-panel screens behind the bar and a pair of well-maintained pool tables, set in an elevated perch next to large windows which open out to the street. When you’ve taken in the sights, head upstairs to see who’s playing.
The top floor of LaSalle Power Co. is used as the main stage and also for hosting private parties. Acts for the main stage are booked irregularly, so check the bar’s website for dates. On the second floor, you’ll also find a nice number of booths and tables as well as a full bar and an abundance of young and sultry cocktail waitresses to take your order. That’s also where you’ll find a second smaller music area that is an odd hybrid of stage and DJ booth, with a wall that surrounds the space at waist level. Indie acts from many musical genres are booked to play, but no matter how hard they rock, you’ll never see them tapping their feet. When bands aren’t scheduled, a DJ spins for the crowd, turning the second floor into a reasonable interpretation of a rock dance club.
Food at LaSalle Power Co. is fairly ambitious with a “slider” menu of nine different miniature sandwiches and a separate breakfast menu that is served all day. Yes, you can order pancakes at midnight, if that’s your thing. There are 27 beers available, nine of which come in a can to reinforce the rock club feel. I’d suggest you pass on the Milwaukee’s Best and upgrade to a can of Fat Tire for an extra buck. Weekday specials are quite tempting with $3 cans on Wednesdays and $15 buckets on Thursdays—this is for a full six pack, making it $2.50 a beer, which is a steal practically anywhere.
The clientele is predominately sub-30, with a good number of older tourists, locals and bar reviewers to balance the crowd. The younger set is definitely there to party and prowl, with many dressed to strategically reveal their best assets. If you’re single and looking, there’s plenty to see here. If you’re on a date, watch those wandering eyes. LaSalle Power Co.’s biggest drawback might be its size. At peak times, the place can be rocking, but at off hours the big main bar can seem kind of lonely. So, bring a friend or six and party like it’s 1999.
If you like LaSalle Power Company, you might want to check out similar River North hangs, Lucky Lady and Rockit, as well as other rock venues Double Door in Wicker Park, Martyrs’ in Lakeview and Morseland in East Rogers Park. For more information, check out the LaSalle Power Co. website but hit the mute button first if you’re at work. In the meantime, eat well, drink better.