Once, there were three ways you could tell a neighborhood was transforming: a new Blockbuster video, a new Starbuck’s, and a new cocktail lounge in a space formerly occupied by a beer and a shot joint. Now, neighborhoods in flux are marked by the closed Blockbuster, the closed Starbuck’s, and the new cocktail lounge in a space formerly occupied by a beer and a shot joint. Weegee’s Lounge, a retro cocktail emporium in under-developed west Logan Square, squarely fits the third part of that checklist.
As patrons approach the nondescript banner that announces Weegee’s, they are bathed by the ever-present blue strobe of Chicago Police cameras. This could either be viewed as a good sign (“well, at least I know my car is safe”) or a bad sign (“Am I going to end up on an episode of Scariest Police Videos?”). In other ways, the surrounding area is reminiscent of Wicker Park in the late 80s and early 90s. What was for decades a mostly residential, working-class neighborhood has lately seen a growing contingent of the young and artsy take root. Weegee’s reflects that changing demographic on a strip of Armitage that is largely without nightlife diversions, with a notable exception being Rosa’s Lounge located two blocks east.
To step into Weegee’s is to step backward in time. The name Weegee’s is in reference to the nickname of famed 1930s-40s era photographer Arthur Fellig. To this end, owner Alex Huebner, a photography graduate from the Art Institute, has hung a series of Weegee photographs and added a black and white photo booth in back. Otherwise, Weegee’s achieves its retro feel through the authentic paraphernalia of a well-worn tavern, rather than through the handiwork of an interior designer. The site has been a working bar for the better part of a century, most recently the Chris-Walton Inn, and the antique charm shows through. The rectangular room is topped by an intricate tin ceiling. The classic glass and wood bar, accented by a 1940s-era beer cooler, seems conjured straight from a Nelson Algren story.
“Alex Huebner and his wife bought out Chris’s Bar, a Polish dive outfitted in disco balls, fourteen shades of brown and poker machines…”
– excerpt from Gavin Paul on Centerstage Chicago
In-between games at the shuffle board table, patrons can choose from an array of drinks long thought out of fashion. Don’t know what’s in a rusty nail? (Scotch, Drambuie, lemon twist.) A Sidecar? (Triple sec, cognac, lemon juice.) Don’t let that stop you. Cosmos, old fashions, martinis, and the like are also on offer. (Many of the specialty cocktails are garnished with house-made brandied cherries for a classic touch.) And we’re not even going to tell you what’s in the Knickerbocker or Delmonico… Weegee’s does not carry any of the mass produced beers from Miller or Bud, but does include a small, but thoughtful selection of imports and microbrews on tap. A rusting railroad spike denotes the local mystery brew, with proceeds going to charity. Hungry? Eat first. Weegee’s does not have a kitchen.
Weegee’s is a welcome beacon in a underserved and somewhat inaccessible area. In the tradition of Danny’s Tavern and Lottie’s (minus the food), Weegee’s offers a relaxed taste of yesteryear in a relatively new package. By the way, don’t be surprised or intimidated if the bartender (button-down shirt/smart vest/matching tie the night I visited) is better dressed than you. Either its part of Weegee’s overall retro look, or that bartender is just damn stylish.