Rockit is a neighborhood bar & grill for people that don’t go to neighborhood bar & grills, and is one of the first “upscale” sports bars in Chicago. Its meticulous interior design, ambitious upscale bar cuisine and equally upscale clientele are perfectly suited to Rockit’s bustling River North setting.
Rockit is located on Hubbard on a busy strip of restaurants and bars that includes Andy’s Jazz Club, Mother Hubbard’s and Dirty Martini to name a few. (There is also a second Rockit location in the bar-starved Wrigleyville neighborhood.)
Rockit’s exterior is done in simple glass and brick, with an American Flag proudly hanging out front and awnings to shade the sidewalk café. The over-sized windows open to provide air-flow to the small row of cocktail tables just inside the door. A short stair, which runs the width of the bar, leads to the hostess stand, main bar and dining area. The large room is a study in dark woods, exposed beams and modernist touches, designed by Nate Berkus who has the good fortune to list Oprah as a reference. Think fung shui meets warehouse and you get the idea. The bar itself is relatively small, but eye-catching, fronted by up-lit bamboo encased in Plexiglas. A pair of flat-panel TVs hang behind the bar, and that’s it by way of entertainment on the main floor, except for the impressive people watching.
The lounge-like upstairs level provides a whole other venue for night and weekend revelry. Highlighted by a 75 foot skylight, island bar and a pool table, the upstairs bar offers plenty of comfy seating and a number of 50″ flat-panel sets—set in picture frames—that make for “refined” sports viewing and added mobility away from the small bar and dining room downstairs.
Rockit is serious about their food and goes out of their way to offer “a contemporary twist” on traditional bar food. Rockit employs executive chef James Gotwald to devise and oversee the extensive menu. Most bars employ some guy named “Jimmy” to fling burgers and dunk fries. Quality does come with a price though. The Kobe beef Rockit burger runs $19 (“The price makes me feel like I’m in Manhattan!” says a friend of ours in a way that is not necessarily negative, which has us concerned…), but was selected by Good Morning America as the best in the country. I settled for the more reasonable $12 Angus Cheeseburger, which was quite good—you can also upgrade to sweet potato or truffle fries for a change of pace. Entrées range from the teens to the low $30s, but this is one of the few bars in the city where I would recommend trying the lobster gnocchi for dinner or tuna tartar as an appetizer. Some people like to go out to dinner before hitting the bars. At Rockit, you can easily kill two birds with one stone.
At six, the tap beer selection is sparse, though Rockit does offer a house white ale made by Stevens Point Brewery and 21 bottled beers add to the lineup. The creative cocktail list is where Rockit excels with eight signature cocktails and nine martinis on hand ($10-13), including specialties like the Bomb Pop and Dirty Girl Scout—and who doesn’t like a dirty girl scout?
The service is remarkably friendly and attentive, particularly when compared to bars of similar caliber, and there are some nice little touches you might not expect. For instance, at lunch folded newspapers are set along the bar to provide a distraction to solo diners. Lunch and happy hour attracts a fair amount of area office workers. Nights bring out the young, energetic and well-coiffed. Sure, you’ll run into some occasional attitude from your fellow patrons, but you’ll also find more eligible bachelors and bachelorettes than an ABC casting call. Expect lines on Friday and Saturday nights, but keep in mind that Rockit does take reservations.
Overall, Rockit may never become a “certified purveyor of the high life,” but it certainly delivers the High Life for those who can afford it and has made the idea of a sports bar hip and female-friendly. Rockit opened in 2004 by Arturo Gomez, Brad Young and “Chicago Nightlife King” Billy Dec of Rockit Ranch Productions. Once a bouncer, Dec helped establish the now-defunct nightclubs Solo, Equinox, Dragon Room, and Circus and now owns Underground, Sunda and Rockit Wrigleyville. If you like Rockit, you might want to check out English, Hunt Club or Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap. For more information, check out the Rockit website. In the meantime, Rockit. Just don’t tip it over.