One of Chicago's original speakeasies will be revived within days. Owner Lou Waddle and partner Liz Pearce could open The Drifter, a small new cocktail bar and quirky live entertainment venue, in as soon as Wednesday in the basement of the building adjacent to one of the oldest bars in Chicago—and former speakeasy—The Green Door Tavern.
While the building was originally built in 1872 and the restaurant upstairs has been operational since 1921, the downstairs space has been only rarely used for private parties and storage. After a little redecoration, the result is a time capsule where worn early-20th century Chicago artifacts—from circus paraphernalia and a phone booth to an elevated door that was once used to roll in booze barrels during prohibition—should mesmerize patrons.
Liz Pearce (The Drawing Room, The Gage) won't have to roll the booze in through a secret door, but she is charged with concepting everything about The Drifter, most notably the cocktail menu. She says her and her bar team have come up with a "rolodex of cocktails" that are all designed after and printed onto tarot cards.
"Everyday when we open we'll let the cards tell us what we're doing for the evening," Pearce says. "When guests sit down they'll be greeted with a smaller abridged deck."
Expect six-to-10 tarot-inspired cocktails to be available every night, as well as four beers on draft, one draft cocktail, beer in bottles and cans, and one type of red, white, and sparkling wine. Pearce highlights a Malort-based cocktail printed on the devil card, the "Upstate Cocktail" (Manhattan riff with rye and walnut), and the "Spruce Jenner" (spruce and rosemary gin).
All decoration in the 45-seat space has been there for decades, except the banquettes, some tables, and the curtain on stage. Expect everything from quirky musicians to burlesque performers to sultry singers to emerge from behind that curtain every night The Drifter is open. "There will be a number of different performances of very eclectic and eccentric talents," Pearce says.
While the term speakeasy is trendy in itself, Pearce wants the concept to be anti-trendy: highlighting the history of the building, early-20th century nomadic culture, and the dusty artifacts that have gone unused for decades, while giving patrons something unexpected every night.
"We don't want it to be trendy; we just want it to be fun and interesting and wild," she says. "This is very much more a great depression era traveling performers kind of bar. It's a regular person's bar, it's gritty, it's old, it's tattered, it's a little frayed. It's not a pretty person's bar."
The pretty people will probably show up too, seeing its River North location and the mystery that's surrounded the space for decades. But if it can evoke the legendary Green Door Tavern upstairs, combined with the pedigreed cocktailers involved, it should draw a mix of people as eclectic as the entertainment.
The Drifter will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m., with entertainment starting at 8 p.m. The entrance is just south of Green Door Tavern on Orleans Street, and ownership is also considering opening a coffee shop upstairs.