In a space that once stood vacant for five years and then featured establishments as transient as residents in the building next door to it, Waterhouse opened in April 2005 and looks like it is here to stay. The same people behind Bluelight, Rebel Bar & Grill and Pitchfork now bring you a new bar, whose increasing popularity most likely stems from its loungey vibe, excellent food & drink specials available throughout the week, Wisconsin football & basketball Mecca, and waitstaff whose number one priority is to distance you as far from sobriety as possible—the same formula that has West Lakeview-ans going to work late more often than usual. Considering the demise of JT Collins, once found kitty corner, Waterhouse has become the new local for down-to-earth neighborhood residents, but also attracts a somewhat more glamorous crowd much to the delight of singletons to whom going to Pony is getting a bit old.
Waterhouse Prohibition Party on January 30, call (773) 871-1200 to reserve tickets
Waterhouse is located steps from the six-corner intersection of Lincoln, Roscoe & Paulina, and is almost directly under the Paulina Brown Line El stop. For years, the space served as the empty shell once known as “Kerouac Jack’s,” whose false promises of “Opening Soon” were exposed when Cabo opened. Sadly, the Mexican-themed bar & grill never could really attract a crowd until JT Collins started to go south after Sean & Sheila left, but Cabo’s days were numbered when new management soiled the Mexican theme when they wheeled in a Golden Tee machine up to the front of the bar and started playing 80s hair-band rock loud enough to curdle your sour cream.
Waterhouse is lodged within the base of a three-story, beige brick building. A tasteful, backlit Waterhouse sign hangs over a black canopy that pulls out over patrons in the sidewalk café in warmer weather. Waterhouse’s ever-present daily specials are well-advertised, both on a freestanding chalkboard as well as on a board next to the plate-glass double doors leading into the bar. Step through and you’ll find the long, narrow barroom typical of many classic Chicago bars like nearby Four Moon Tavern in Roscoe Village, Gannon’s Pub in North Center and Sheffield’s. The new owners of Waterhouse did a very wise thing in moving out the island bar that formerly dominated the bar’s entire front room in its Cabo days, and set it back against the maroon-painted northern wall. This allows for numerous cocktail tables up front, overlooking large, plate-glass windows that look out onto Paulina and Lincoln an open up in summertime. Against the southern wall of exposed brick is an elevated banquette with tables and high-backed chairs followed by a handful of booths, leading up to a rather large one at the end that looks like it can fit about eight people or four Wisconsinites. A string of vintage, chandelier-like ornate light fixtures hang above the seating area which, combined with nicely framed artwork, hardwood floors and a dark, pressed tin ceiling rounds out the décor and gives the place a somewhat sophisticated, yet funky and relaxed vibe – similar to that of Sopo over on Southport and Matisse on Diversey (both formerly under the same ownership).
A narrow DJ booth, from which music is spun daily after about 10pm, separates the front room from the rear. Back there, you’ll find more cocktail tables, a fairly good sized back bar, and both a Golden Tee and Silver Lanes machine. This area is available for private parties of up to 50 people. Beyond the back bar is a hallway with potted plants that leads to a pair of spacious, clean and well-tiled bathrooms.
The dark wooden bar itself features about a dozen, high-backed barstools with bowl-shaped lamps hanging over them, and a pair of high-definition plasma TVs that tend to draw your eye no matter where you are in the room. Behind the bar is a wall over which water cascades down. I would suggest to avoid the eastern part of the bar, where the waitstaff tends to congregate in somewhat territorial fashion. A full list of martinis is available, composed of the usual suspects but also of such intrigues as the The Penthouse (Belvedere Vodka with strawberry nectar and a champagne float), Paulina Sunset (Skyy Raspberry, Raspberry Liqueur and pineapple juice), and the Wango Tango (citrus vodka, mango puree, splash of cranberry, lemon twist). The beer selection consists of a dozen on tap, primarily microbrews including Magic Hat #9, Harpoon IPA, and seasonals from Goose Island, Bell’s and Leinenkugel. An additional 29 macrobrews and microbrews are found in bottles.
The revamped menu elevates the Waterhouse moveable feast into the “upscale pub grub” department. An impressive appetizer line-up is highlighted by the mini-sandwich platter (combo of cheeseburger, pulled pork, buffalo chicken, portabella with roasted red pepper and provolone, and Philly cheese steak), “pork wings” (tenderloin with BBQ sauce), and buffalo chicken egg rolls (a meal in itself, also served at Rebel Bar & Grill). Women love the chopped salad (Is it the bacon?), and the main course is highlighted by the half-pound Waterhouse Burger, turkey breast sandwich served on pretzel bread (actually a light pretzel bread), spicy chipotle shredded chicken sandwich, and the Baha Taco Platter. One reason the food is so delectable at Waterhouse is that all produce comes from Roins Produce, all meat comes from purveyor JDY Meats based in Lincoln Square and open since 1974, and all sandwiches come with an option for tater tots. Brunch is also served on the weekends with French toast being a specialty, a few Mexican options harkening back to the space’s Cabo days, and with Bloody Marys that seem to be developing a following.
Waterhouse also prides itself on its service, which I’ve found to be excellent—especially with Jesse. Formerly a waiter at Matisse, Jesse has moved onto Waterhouse and now West Lakeview denizens can do their best to try and escape inebriation, as Jesse, a Laotian prone to doing back flips in the bar, in-between offering you half-priced shots served in cocktail glasses. Just make sure you buy him a shot or two, as you enjoy a fine “Lunchbox” (a shot of Amaretto, dropped into a pint glass with Miller Lite and orange juice) or Jäger Bomb. Just try to be ready for work on time the next day… Waterhouse can also be counted on for a good special, any night of the week (see list above).
Waterhouse is one of the few trendy bars that actually has character. This is a nice departure from the pre-fabricated Irish pub craze and the never-ending tide of sports bars, even if they do support Wisconsin with its bright red flag flapping outside in the breeze, and gums flapping inside as Badger fans revere Barry Alvarez in-between cheese curds, Bucky Brews (special concoction made by Shiner), $15 Bucky Fishbowls, and saying things like, “katty corner” and “bubbler”… As if they could smell the cheese curds from a mile away, a smattering of Green Bay Packer fans straggle into Waterhouse as well, so consider yourself forewarned. Pub quiz fans will also appreciate Whaddayaknow? Free Team Trivia held every Wednesday night at 8pm by Trivia Chicago with half-price bottles of wine to boot.
It wasn’t too long ago that if you wanted something a bit more than a quiet neighborhood bar in West Lakeview, your options were limited to Fizz, Four Moon Tavern and the now-defunct Tavern 33. Nowadays, Waterhouse, joins Frasca’s, Bungalow, Beckett’s Public House, and The Shire in delivering to locals, as well as those from other parts of the city, and the few suburbanites who have seldom ventured west of Ashland Avenue for a good place to have a cocktail. And, in case you were wondering, the inspiration for the bar’s name came while watching an basketball game held at the TD Waterhouse Center in Orlando… For more information, check out the Waterhouse website. On Wisconsin!