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Airbags

The original Twisted Spoke on the corner of Grand and Ogden is definitely a good thing. The new Twisted Spoke in Lakeview is definitely too much of a good thing.

I was a regular customer at the former location in West Town long before the meaty Fatboy burgers became the stuff of legends and the signature Bloody Marys made the "Best of" lists in every publication in the city. So, when the crowds began to pour in and the wait became unbearable, my visits became few and far between.

This summer, I was most skeptical to see the construction of a new Twisted Spoke on the corner of Roscoe and Clark Streets, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Was it possible to successfully multiply such a fabulous gimmick? I recently stopped into the new location to see how it stacked up against the old.

The first thing I noticed when I walked through the door: the place was dead. This was a bit disconcerting, given that it was 8pm on a Saturday evening. Perhaps it is hypocritical of me to first grumble about the crowds and then complain when I am offered my choice of seats (either at one of the booths in the front bar or at one of the tables in the nonsmoking back room), but the joint was eerily deserted.

But I was bothered more by the dismal attempt by owners Cliff and Mitch Einhorn to recreate the theme and ambiance of the original location than I was by the unnerving quiet. The first Twisted Spoke touts itself as a "biker bar." The patchy '50s-style diner is decorated inside and out with a assortment of motorcycle paraphernalia, from the demonic skeleton riding a vintage motorcycle out front to the bike parts and biker photos adorning the walls inside. The old place is drafty, tacky, and marvelous.

The new location forgoes the comfortable diner atmosphere for the kind of dark, sterile open space that is so typical of the many "trendy" restaurants and bars that are popping up along Clark Street these days (the better to cram in masses of people once the baseball season starts back up again). A few motorcycle accessories adorned the walls, but the biker motif seemed incomplete, especially compared with the gaudiness of the original location. The same motorcycle photos were there, but you had to squint through the muted red lighting to make them out.

My disappointment with the dreary, bare surroundings of this new Twisted Spoke was great; my expectation of a delicious meal was not. Although I dreaded ordering, fearing that the owners had somehow messed up the food as well, I was relieved somewhat to recognize the menu with all of the same offerings of its mother location.

I ordered a Bloody Mary from my server as soon as I sat down. Within a few minutes it was delivered to the table, and upon close inspection I found it to resemble the several other red alcoholic concoctions I had slurped down at the old Twisted Spoke -- a pile of salami slices, olives, hot peppers, and a pearl onion sat atop a tall glass of tomato juice and vodka and a double-shot beer chaser accompanied the entire outfit. And the taste? Not as spicy as I remembered, but definitely enough of a kick to warrant a water break every now and then. So far, so good.

My entrée choices proved to be equally satisfying. The half-pound Fatboy cooked medium with Swiss and grilled onions was every bit as big and beefy as I had remembered. While I may have gripes about the altered décor of the new place, I was happy that the Einhorn brothers didn't tinker with the burger recipe. The shrimp po' boy sandwich was also impressive, although the French bread was too thick for the tasty battered shrimp and the spicy cabbage and Cajun tartar sauce. The only real complaint I had about my food (which is the same one I have always had with Twisted Spoke) was that the fries were overcooked and fairly tasteless -- I have learned to douse them in large quantities of salt and ketchup to render them edible.

I may have been convinced that it is possible to identically replicate a menu in a new space, but I'm not entirely sure this is a good idea. It is one thing to eat an $8 burger and a $6.50 beverage in a rowdy, kitschy environment where beer is flowing and you are bumping elbows with people of all walks of life who are generally having a good time. But when you are eating alone in a dark, impersonal space, what you once thought was one of the best burgers in Chicago and one of the greatest drinks ever mixed suddenly taste like overpriced bar food.

Yes, the new Twisted Spoke features a tasty "biker brunch" on the weekends, a lengthy list of beers and "Smut and Eggs" late Saturday night -- all the amusing idiosyncrasies that made the old location such a delightful hangout. But a successful gimmick won't necessarily hold up in an entirely different neighborhood -- some things just shouldn't be duplicated.

The new Twisted Spoke is located at 3365 N. Clark St. The old Twisted Spoke is located at 501 N. Ogden Ave.

GB store

Comments

Cliff Einhorn / January 8, 2004 12:57 PM

So let me get this straight. The food and drinks were good and what you remembered, but you came in on a Saturday night in December, found it dead, therefore we just shouldn't have opened a second location? Let me tell you, December sucked. It sucked at Twisted Spoke and it sucked at every other place in this neighborhood. I had one main concern when we opened here: would we be able to maintain our exceedingly high standards for what we serve. That is why we waited eight years before opening another Twisted Spoke. I take it as high praise that we appear to have achieved that. It took years to fill the first one a Saturday, not to mention the rest of the week. We have no desire to be the next hot anything in Lakeview, and certainly not another Wrigley sports bar.

We have quite a bit of junk left to hang and ideas for the outside to make this place just as tacky as the first. Then, after a bit of time and growth, you can begin complaining about how it's just not worth fighting for a table.

Kim / January 14, 2004 1:33 PM

Hi Cliff,

Thanks so much for writing! I'm flattered you read my article. I will agree with you that business is often slow in December, but quite frankly, there are plenty of new restaurants in that area -- none with the pedigree of Twisted Spoke -- that are full on Saturdays. The absence of any other customers really detracted from our meal, so I had to point it out.

But I was more upset by the fact that I love your first location and didn't think your second location measured up than I was by the empty tables. I'm sure that establishing a second location in a yuppie part of town just blocks from Wrigley Field is an excellent business decision, but as someone who appreciates places for their quirkiness and originality, I can't, in good faith, applaud you for regurgitating a novel idea, especially since it appears to be a work in progress.

You guys have awesome food, and like I've said, I love your original location and tell everyone I know to go there. I will check back in at the Wrigleyville spot in the coming months and maybe I will be able to recommend your new location just as strongly.

Best of luck.

Kim

 

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