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Feature Fri Aug 29 2008
The old Bottom Lounge on Wilton was a small space with a bar, music room (with poles to the side of the floor), and upstairs lounge. The new Bottom Lounge at 1375 W. Lake is a large space with a bar and restaurant, music room (with poles to the side of the floor), and upstairs lounge — and more. It may have taken a while for the new Bottom Lounge to open after CTA expansion forced the old one to close, but they really got it right, even down to being next to the El again. However, now it faces the tracks, which makes it just a little difficult to hear anything outside when a Green Line rumbles by.
Perhaps the first thing that everyone will notice about the Bottom Lounge is that it's huge. The front room with the bar and restaurant has high ceilings, lots of seating and open space. It's ideal for pre-show and even during one if, say, a certain opener isn't really having a good set. The bar has been expanded, as well. Clearly they are trying to draw a significant non-showgoing crowd.
But this is about a music venue. And this one's been put together very well. First of all, it's a large space that attributes itself well to even a small crowd. But being with a few hundred other fans doesn't make it terribly cramped either. And the A/C works like a charm. Even on a muggy summer evening it was comfortable. Sightlines are generally good from all over, as it has a setup similar to Metro, in which the low-lying stage is along the long side and the back wall isn't further than 40 feet from the stage. The room isn't as wide and there's no balcony, so the room isn't as large as Metro; it seems it'll accommodate bands who are between the Empty Bottle and Metro, popularity-wise. (Based on recent and future bookings, it appears it'll take over where Double Door once did.)
The sound is some of the best in town. It's mostly loud and crisp. Any band should sound decent through the massive system. The lighting rig on and around the stage looks like it should be in a much larger venue, but can work well for some flashy bands who need to distract the audience. Yet at the same time the room is dark. The walls are all black and, other than a hallway to the left, there is hardly any light away from the stage. (Speaking of that hallway, though, I was impressed with it as a bulletin board for upcoming shows. It's splattered with posters and flyers.) So far, the room doesn't have much character. It's still pretty clean, but that should work itself out in the next few months as they host some gritty acts that'll bring out their gritty fans.
Even being next to a train, it's still about three blocks from the Ashland station for Green and Pink lines. There is a parking lot next door, appropriate since the building was apparently a taxi repair shop in a former life. Street parking isn't particularly hard to find, especially north or south, like on Randolph. Unfortunately, bicycle parking is pretty much confined to metal fences along the sidewalk. When I was last there, that fence was full of locked bicycles for a quarter-block.
Overall, Bottom Lounge is shaping up to be a premier rock music venue in Chicago. With experienced management, talent booking and a good-looking and sounding room for shows, it won't be too long until you end up there. After a long wait, the finished product is definitely worthwhile.