Archives for category: bartenders

Ahhh….darkness. When one walks into Jin Ju the low lights envelope and soothe. Sure, you may or may not be able to see your date, but really…why the need to see every tiny detail? That’s for the next morning at brunch!

The two standouts of jin jiu are the server’s personalities, and the kicky, mildly innovative but reliably spicy and enjoyable dishes. You can depend on “Mike”,* the diminutive but muscular server to give you a reassuring and flirtatious squeeze on the arm (not tuchus, never fear) as you sit down. Our runner up, but not lesser favorite is “Lance”* (apologize for stereotypical name) the flamboyant, expressively waxed server who never fails to welcome, and elucidate the menu items.  I tried a Korean restaurant in chicago, but was intimidated by the exclusively Korean menu and self cooking woks/pots at the table. Lance and Mike have endless patience to explain and distinguish one seemingly similiar sounding menu item from the other. It’s a relief…ethnic cuisine for confused yuppies!

The dishes bat it home every time. The bi bim bap with sesame oil (it’s the second item on the entree menu) adds an interesting twist to the traditional dish, and each meal is accompanied by spicy, delectable vegetable/salad/kimchee type thingies that vary every few months or so. The pear martini, a powerful drink (ladies be warned) has the nonpreserved flavor of real pears, with the accompanying kick of decent quality wodka. They excel in wines as well, usually offering the appropriate mix. I should warn, if you have tummy troubles, I would abstain from a night at the Jiu, the spicy dishes are tough. Other than that, Jin Ju is always a pleasant night out.

*Server’s names have been changed not only to protect their identity, but to protect myself from revealing that I’m horrible with names.

Jin Ju on Urbanspoon


Happy Village

Neighborhood: East Village / Ukranian Village

1059 N. Wolcott Ave.    Chicago, IL 60622


Despite my desperate clutching for a good headline, as evidence
above, I have to say hesitating positives for Happy Village, though
for a select crew.

The interior, heck, the whole bar caters to the skinny jean (not
mall loiterers)  janitorial chain crew. The bar is bare bone in terms of decor, I’m not sure what types of top shelf vodka the place has, and the only
atmosphere is provided by the glow of the jukebox. However, for ultra low pressure first encounters, and again with the forgiving evening light, the place has a certain understated caché.

Drawbacks are lots of smokers, and despite this alleged ban on bar
smoking, not sure the haze is going to lift anytime soon. The
owner has strung klieg lights in the back, so summertime is the
optimal time to go. That said, they are of the “night of freaks at
the circus”  variety-not warm incandescent. Also cheap plastic
chairs abound in the back, making those awful plastic chair squeaking noises whenever you move. (and louder the heavier you are, oy!)  Also the place gets quite crowded, so maybe I’m retracting my unequivocal support
as first date material. Still, the place lends itself (again in summer)
to warm casual strolls after the fact, or you can throw in the whole
kit and head over to the more conventionally upscale Vintage. (see
first entry.)

the best pic I could find online

1935 W. Chicago Avenue

(312) 243-5600

Cleo’s is the bar you pick when you don’t care too deeply about first impressions. When I think of the bar (with grilled food, more on that later) the dim lighting comes to mind. Not dim in a defrocked Ricardo Montalban type of way, but in a “a bunch of wet kindergartenders on a field trip just sullied our tile floors” kind of way. When one walks by from the south there is always a jetblack maned underfed youngster (grandma!) acting as de facto greeter, perched on his seat, blowing smoke within a 15 degree radius of my sad self. The bouncer, usually a mere 20 lbs. heavier than myself usually seems grateful for the additional company.

Lighting, as we all know, is key, and Cleo’s scores several datingdish points (tada!) by stringing little red lanterns in the front room. If you can squeeze in a seat among the 30 and 40 something hipsters and other somewhat questionable types you have scored. Otherwise you are relegated to the Siberia of the back room, which has the dull warm flourescence that makes you question your eyesight. In addition the Olde Chicago favourite, the sports monitors/monsters become a hindrance to that first, second or frankly any date. I had to compete with my date who had roving eyes there, not for the dishy waitress, but for ESPN2 tennis.

The drinks are relatively affordable, though I remember the at best average wine costing a bit more (was it $7?) which I think is ridiculous considering the ambiance and House vintage. The service, usually in faux vintage t-shirts, is palatably friendly but again, curiously absent at that moment you’re desperate to pay and get away from that awkward date, which would be an unremarkable experience at Cleo’s.

The summer provides better opportunities for dating there, because the beer garden is open and there is a more expansive provision of saxy lighting. Unfortunately one is forced to sit on that awful metal chair that leaves a diamond pattern on one’s tush. Additionally I had the experience there with my dear friend L (not a date but who cares) of having to GET UP and get my own water from the near empty cooler. And pay for table service on top of that. Quite the offense. Though I shy away from food reviews, Cleo’s is NOT a place to dig into anythng healthy or colored anything other than brown. It’s fine if you want the conventional bar food trappings, but even in that case, it’s just OK.

In summary, Cleo’s is ideal for the after party party with that date you already know somewhat, when you’ve been swanked out by the loungy, throttling beats of the clubs with low furniture. (Why is it clubs now have such low furniture? Seems like a liability, even without imbibing martinis ) The relatively lower price point will come as a relief, the softer music will soothe your tinnitis strained ears, and the nonambiance will neither intimidate nor enthrall you.

In other words, it’s just ok, but awful if in the back room.

Cleo's in Chicago

vintage interiorThe idea of this blog is to review restaurants, but only in the context of how palatable (punny, right) they are for dating. As I seem to be a bit of an expert on the nuances of dating, but especially how IMPORTANT the right setting is for those first few dates, I decided to opine on the various Chicago eateries/lounges.

This week’s installment


Bucktown/Wicker Park
1942 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60622

By Margalit

This week’s review sends us to the outer banks of the Wicker
Park corner of Division and Damen to a semi luxe bar called
“Vintage.” Now before you imagine Edith Piaf renditions of
“L’Etranger” crooning through Aunt Vivian’s phonograph or
musty silk raiments please take hold, Vintage simply refers
to the fruit of the vine.

Vintage is an excellent place for a first date, barring one rule:
come before 10pm. At that magic hour, the subtle electronica
escalates into an assault of thumping elephant beats. (“turn it down,
sonny!”) The club, wine bar, what have you boasts an
excellent menu, as the chef changed somewhere around summer
of 07, though portions can be a bit stingy. The artichoke hearts are above
average though with a slightly excessively oily sauce. The pizza
is an excellent value and restrains itself with only the best
basil, cheese and sauce, a true Margherita.

But again let’s keep the focus on atmosphere. First dates usually involve
two slightly edgy people eagerly gulping down the first
glass to calm their nerves. That is why I recommend the
waitstaff, friendly (I especially love B.J. and please no obvious jokes here,
and the other chick Danielle?) yet they are not painfully perky pests.
There is one embittered bartender who failed to laugh at my off the
cuff joke about lawyers, but he was the exception. Unfortunately the overhead light
is least flattering to those concerned with bags under their eyes
but if you sit by the front, the bar or outdoors during the summer
you can get the necessary antiaging luminescence. Unfortunately post 10pm
the place becomes a coterie of youngish men in douchebag shirts
and the ladies who love them and love to talk LOUD. One other
drawback involving after hours is that people are rumored to enter
the bathroom in pairs, ahem ahem.

So to recap: good for a first date if sitting by the bar or in front, before
10pm, and don’t be afraid to order a tasty appetizer or entrée. BAD
if one has laryngitis, has an aversion to neo Sade lounge music,
and sits under those ghastly lights in the left back area.

Vintage Wine Bar in Chicago