There are three places no one wants to be: the office on Monday, the dentist’s chair and jail. So, a prison theme would seem an unlikely motif for a new Chicago watering hole, yet that’s exactly what you have in Lockdown Bar—and by incorporating some familiar elements from other popular local bars, it works. Exchanging hard labor for hard rock, sporting an edgy, industrial look and offering numerous daily specials, Lockdown Bar can make for an interesting escape.
Before Lockdown Bar, Empty Bottle pretty much had this corner of Ukrainian Village to itself, with the exception of a few Polish tawernas where patrons still call their beer piwo. So, it’s hard to miss the newly rehabbed corner storefront across the street, with its over-sized black banner stretched across the building and dual glass garage doors that retract to open up the front of the bar. The room itself is rectangular and on the cozy side. A service bar claims the southern wall, with a little caged alcove above housing the bar’s resident prisoners. Table seating hugs the perimeter, while a partially-barred and raised space offers a few more tables at the back of the room. Exposed ductwork, diamond-stamped chrome plates along the walls and occasional soft-core lesbian erotica adorn the space, which gets most of its light from banks of video monitors that outnumber those on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
The primary purpose of those monitors is to broadcast live performances from the history of rock, and or, roll, as Lockdown Bar claims to be the first “virtual venue” in the city. (Lose the video, however, and you have AliveOne, which has been rocking Lincoln Park for years.) Just as often however, you’ll find a blaring soundtrack, with many of the monitors taken over by sports—the bar does kill the music for weekend college and pro football. And when I say blaring, I’m not exaggerating, especially when the bar goes full metal racket on weekends. You won’t see anyone in Lockdown Bar on their cell phone. You’ll have to step outside, like a smoker, to make or take a call.
Drinks at Lockdown Bar are pretty straight forward, with six taps supplemented by 41 cans and bottles, enough to find something agreeable to most palates. The hard liquor selection is fairly basic, as well. You won’t find a selection of house cocktails or a menu-length whiskey list here, but very hipster-friendly drink specials are offered every day of the week. Got ten bucks? You can probably buy yourself a PBR and Jamo hangover; and even the Belgian imports run no higher than $7. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the folks at Kuma’s Corner can take a bow, because by the time you reach Lockdown Bar’s menu it’s impossible not notice the similarities. No less than 15 10-oz. specialty burgers are the highlight of the menu, each with a name that incorporates the bar’s prison-rock theme. Build-your-own mac & cheese is also popular, but the standard house side, topped with breadcrumbs and crumbled bacon, is plenty good as is. Prices are fairly in tune with the quality of the food, but I’m pretty sure this marks the first appearance of the $15 burger in Ukie Village. [Editor’s note: I recently ordered the $13 Buffalo Bill burger medium rare and received well done 20 minutes later. Not even a Goose Island Green Line could replace the moisture sucked out of my mouth by this tasteless, pre-formed patty…]
The vibe and clientele are much as you might expect and are largely drawn from the surrounding neighborhood. Dress is casual and the lighting dim, so no need to spend more than five seconds in front of the closet. Those without a tat (or three) might find themselves in the minority, but the under-40 crowd maintains a pretty mellow profile, in contrast to the turbo-charged sound system. Conversation is best accomplished from a distance of 12″ or less, so use the opportunity to introduce yourself to someone who is easy on the eyes. You’ll usually find plenty of open space before 9pm, but later things can get a bit more crowded. Lockdown Bar is open until 2am Sunday-Friday and 3am Saturday and, in addition to being open for both lunch and brunch, the kitchen remains open until last call.
If you have a taste for burgers, an eye for good drink specials and an ear for “live” music, you’ve been hereby sentenced to an evening at Lockdown Bar. If you like Lockdown Bar, be sure to check out Twisted Spoke in West Town, the aforementioned Kuma’s in Avondale, Villain’s in Printers Row, or the nearby hot dog stand, Felony Franks. For more information, check out the Lockdown website. For those about to rock, I salute you.