Ludlow Liquors, the reborn Orbit Room, officially debuts tonight with the hope of injecting some energy into Avondale with quality stirred cocktails and a unique menu of South Side throwbacks mixed in with Filipino food from Old Habits. Chicago drinkers know Ludlow owners Wade McElroy and Jeff Donahue from their work creating Sportsman’s Club in West Town and Estereo in Logan Square. They did those projects for Heisler Hospitality. Ludlow is the first bar they’ve opened independently for their own company, Leisure Activities.
McElroy and Donahue won the Eater Award for Bartenders of the Year in 2014 and are bringing that acumen to Avondale. The drinks, such as the “Summit” (Suntory, Toki, Lustau Fino sherry, Apologue persimmon, grapefruit hop bitters), are available by the ounce. Drinkers get flexibility to create their own cocktail flights or throw the drinks down as shots, if they’re into that kind of thing. McElroy and Donahue are mixing up eight signature cocktails. As they grow more comfortable in the space, cocktails like the “Summit” will provide bartenders with a base to create even more. For instance, don’t be surprised to see boozy slushies this spring when Ludlow opens its patio.
Speaking of the outdoor space, it’s barren for now as the old seating has been cleared. There are plans for communal tables and more. Ownership has experience with patios thanks to the backyard at Sportsman’s. There are plans to build an outdoor bar, too.
They call the food operation Old Habits and chef Nick Jirasek (Currency Exchange Cafe, Gaslight Coffee Roasters) has brought a taste of the South Side to the North Side. Favorites like mostaccioli in a pig’s head and beef bolognese and rib tips have made their way to Ludlow. The rib tips are smoked in house and finished in a deep frier. The sauces are where the Filipino flavors start to show as besides a Memphis-style barbecue, customers can pick a verde or curry butter sauce. There’s also crispy lumpia and Shanghai-style egg rolls. The frenched chicken legs may be the star — they come in adobo, barbecue, or with Hienie’s hot sauce. Yes, North Siders are going to be able get sauce from Hienie’s Shrimp House, a 71-year-old institution on the Southeast Side. If all that food sounds rich, worry not — there’s a kale salad as a healthy option. Eventually they’ll offer food to go and delivery — maybe even develop some synergy with Estereo and Sportsman’s by encouraging those customers to order food from Ludlow. Ludlow could be a solid food option for drinkers at the Revolution Brewing Taproom, only a five-minute drive away.
Heisler’s Kevin Heisner redesigned the space and kept The Orbit Room’s old Brunswick bar and added some muted tones to give the space balance. Crews turned over the space in just over a month as The Orbit Room closed on New Year’s Eve. There are two discreet TVs behind the bar. The general contractor saved the old ceiling tiles from Estereo when renovating that space. They’ve opted to use those tiles at Ludlow as a subtle wink. DJs will spin on occasion, giving drinkers some beats while they sip draft punches or cheap beers.
McElroy and Donahue will be behind the bar on select nights to not only ensure quality but to actually have fun. They hope Ludlow can bring something unique to Avondale. Find out starting tonight when Ludlow Liquors and its tasty sidekick Old Habits open to the public. Check out the menu and drink list below.
Ludlow Liquors and Old Habits, 2959 N. California Avenue, (773) 754-7492, Ludlow is open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sunday through Friday; open 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturday; Old Habits open 6 p.m. to midnight daily.