Located just beyond the friendly confines of Wrigleyville, Nick’s Uptown takes its name from the neighborhood surrounding it (though technically “Buena Park”), and which emphasizes just how far north it is from its original location in Lincoln Park (now the Marquee Lounge), and its more well-known sibling located in Wicker Park. Along with Holiday, Bar on Buena and Michael’s, Nick’s Uptown is one of the few places in this part of Chicago where you can hang out somewhere other than a total dive. When it opened at the turn of the millennium, Holiday Club was a soup kitchen and the neighborhood was pretty rough, where the odds of getting shot and not getting shot seemed to be dead even. Ah, how times have changed: these days you’ll find mostly condo dwellers from greater Wrigleyville that drop by for late-night, replacing the larrikins who once looked for a fight if they couldn’t pick up.
Nick’s Uptown is the latest addition to a legacy that began in 1977, by then and current owner Nick Novich. The original Nick’s was located at Halsted and Armitage, but moved to its present location in Wicker Park ten years ago. Having opened during the Summer of 2001, Nick’s Uptown is located in a somewhat unique locale. The building was built in the 1920s as an automobile dealership. What is now the main bar operated as the Cairo Club for about 20 years, having opened in the 1940s. Next door was a liquor store. As mentioned above, Nick’s Uptown was the first cool bar in this part of town. Prior to that, the only other bar in the area worth going to was the now-defunct Side Bar Café (now Bar on Buena), located at Buena Avenue and Broadway, which has a nice shaded beer garden and once offered pleasant views of prostitutes and the homeless hangin’ out amidst young condo dwellers new to the area. Michael’s Bar & Grill, south of Side Bar on Broadway, is also a good place especially for food and watching the game. However, neither Michael’s or Side Bar offered much of a night life. With all the twenty- and thirty-somethings having moved into recently-converted condos in the area, Nick’s Uptown savvily honed in on the growing need for late-night cocktails, as the only alternatives are significantly further south in Wrigleyville or farther north in Andersonville or at the Green Mill. In addition to Nick’s Uptown’s location, the actual building itself is one of the rare instances in Chicago where a residential building was re-zoned to accommodate a bar. Usually it’s the other way around, especially considering such former stand-outs as Augenblick, MaxTavern and even Medusa’s.
Not only is Nick’s Uptown one of the few cool places along Irving Park, close to the lake, but it also compares well against even the trendiest of bars elsewhere in Chicago. Once you get past the legion of bouncers at the door, used effectively to quell disturbances quickly, you’ll enter an environment that would make the director of Glengarry Glen Ross proud. The funky, red-brick floor (ala McGee’s) compliments the blue, green and red lighting throughout the front room. The high, curving, cave-like ceiling is accented by the cylindrical lights on walls painted in a pattern that evokes the feel of crisscrossing spotlights in Hollywood – Hollywood, California, that is, not Hollywood Avenue located a bit further north. A long bar with 60 black-metal, high-backed chairs extends along the south end of the barroom, with cocktail tables in the middle and along the sides. Behind the bar stands a mirrored backing along with red fez hat-lamps like those found at Liar’s Club. Here at the bar, only a few beers are available on tap but it probably won’t matter as they’ll all taste the same anyway when most find themselves there. Just have a Red Bull & vodka and, like, nevermind.
Large bathrooms are located at the far end of the main barroom, along with plenty of room to queue up for them. From here, you can enter the pool room with four tables and back-lit shelving with its colorful bottles is oddly soothing. If you’re not doing that well at pool, there’s a Golden Tee back in the main room up front by the large plate-glass windows. A second bar arcs out into the room, midway down the northern wall.
Nick’s Uptown is the type of place where you’re likely the only one if sober. What once gave me the feeling that I was seconds away from a fight, now feels more like I’m seconds away from a fantasy football debate. To attract an earlier crowd, Nick’s Uptown has a sidewalk café and features live bands playing R&B, soul, blues and and rock at 9:30pm on Fridays and 10pm on Saturdays for no cover. When it’s time to skedaddle, don’t worry, there are plenty of cabs lined up outside waiting for a fare.
Nick’s Uptown is arguably the most lively late-night bar north of Lincoln Park – giving Tai’s till 4, Carol’s Pub and even Green Mill a run for their money. Even though it violates by personal “Two-o’Clock Rule” (nothing good ever happens after 2:00am), I recommend heading over to Nick’s Uptown when you’re feeling a bit frisky (read: horny and wasted) and don’t mind risking a.) potentially have a coyote ugly moment the next morning, b.) a burrito at Burrito House at 5:00am, and/or c.) a lighter wallet in the morning after ten $5 shot & PBR specials featured every night except Friday & Saturday. For more information, check out Nick’s Uptown’s website.