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As COVID-19 Disrupts Live Music, a DePaul Bar Boosts Non-Alcoholic Options

Golden Dagger, the former Tonic Room, features coffee, a “rap-brary,” booze-free drinks, and alcohol

A man and woman sit on a checkerboard-tiled stage inside an old-looking building.
Golden Dagger will replace Tonic Room in Lincoln Park.
Sarah Elizabeth Larson/Golden Dagger

DePaul-area bar and music venue Tonic Room in recent years had become a late-night haven for jam bands— a hideaway from the typical sports bar mayhem in the area. But now ownership seeks a fresh start, seeking to redefine the space with early morning hours, coffee, booze-free beverages, and other fun features inside the 127-year-old building at 2447 N. Halsted Street. Owner Donnie Biggins plans on Wednesday to unveil his rebranded tavern, now dubbed Golden Dagger, to Chicago.

Tonic Room closed its doors last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Biggins has no desire to revert back to Before Times.

“Excuse my French, but fuck that,” he says. “I don’t want to go back to normal. I want to come out of this rejuvenated and with a new outlook on how we treat each other, how we respect our artist community... We want to create a new beginning.”

Patrons can expect cold brew, espresso drinks, and drip coffee in the morning. They’ll use beans from Skylight Coffee, a newish roastery from Tonic Room’s production manager Billy Giannopolous and sound engineer Matt DeWine, Operators are currently hammering out a deal with French bakery mini-chain Maison Parisienne to feature breakfast pastries, and customers will be also allowed to bring their own food. At noon, offerings will open up to include a robust menu of spirit-free drinks and non-alcoholic kombucha, plus Chicago-made beers, wine, and cocktails.

A man and woman sit at a wooden booth inside a large space that’s painted dark blue.
Golden Dagger will put special emphasis on alcohol-free drinks.
Sarah Elizabeth Larson/Golden Dagger

Biggins says he’s explored sobriety from alcohol over the past four years and has recently marked 15 months without drinking. He likes to be open about his experiences to counteract the shame and guilt many feel about alcohol abuse. He wants his venue to create an environment where customers don’t feel pressure to consume alcohol. He aims to show that no one needs booze to enjoy a concert or a night out with friends.

“I think it’s important to be an advocate for non-drinkers,” he says, citing many nights out where he’s gotten stuck with bad coffee or bitters and soda. “The more that we talk about it, the stronger our community grows.”

Nearly every corner of Golden Dagger has seen alterations, from a reconfigured stage and relocated front door to bi-fold windows that help keep fresh air circulating in the space. Visitors will also get a chance to peek at a dagger found by previous owners inside the building. Ghost hunters and staff alike have mused that it’s likely a relic of the building’s past history as a brothel, a speakeasy, and an occultist temple for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Truly modern additions will include a new “rapbrary” (see: rap library) with books selected by Chicago-based rapper and librarian Roy Kinsey. He and Biggins hope that customers will settle in with a book and cup of coffee on the new 30-seat outdoor patio in the corridor adjacent to nearby Thai restaurant Noodles in the Pot. Kinsey and Biggins aim to launch a book club with ticketed events.

Biggins won’t try and estimate when live shows will resume, noting the pandemic has taught him to be skeptical of future plans. In the meantime, he’s focusing on COVID-safe solutions like a livestream series called “Local Support” and retail space for tapes and vinyl with all proceeds going to the artists. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the music industry and artists who had relied on in-person event; Biggins sees supporting them as a key part of his mission at Golden Dagger.

“I believe that coming out of this pandemic, I want a fresh viewpoint on what I’m offering to my community — and to the artist community specifically,” he says. “That means creating opportunities for everyone to participate in ways that are safe for each other.”

Golden Dagger, 2447 N. Halsted Street, Slated to open Wednesday, April 21.

  • Golden Dagger is a fresh start for a beloved Lincoln Park music venue [Time Out Chicago]

Golden Dagger

2447 North Halsted Street, , IL 60614 (773) 857-0166 Visit Website

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