2020 was a dark time for Chicago’s bar industry, but lately a few taverns have thrown open its doors to welcome customers back. Reopening wasn’t a decision beverage director Donovan Mitchem and his team at MONEYGUN in West Loop took lightly. The bar reopens Saturday after a COVID-19 slumber with changes: They’ve taken over the dining room next door belonging to sibling restaurant St. Lou’s Assembly giving them an additional 1,000 square feet.
This does not mean the end for St. Lou’s, Mitchem says. St. Lou’s back porch — known for unique frozen drinks and patio pounders — remains intact with its name and will open when the weather cooperates. Mitchem, who hosted virtual events for the bar during the pandemic, hints at surprises that may excite some of St. Lou’s old customers.
“Just maybe we’ll bring bocce ball back,” Mitchem says coyly.
MONEYGUN, which opened in 2016. will also have new food items. Look for waffle fries, chicken wings, ribs, raw seafood, and more. Veteran Chicago cook Stephen Finney (Sociale, Soho House) is the bar’s new chef.
St. Lou’s was once home to wood-panel benches and seating that reminiscent of a cafeteria. The motif matched the restaurant’s former meat and three counter format. All of that is gone as Mitchem says they’ve converted the dining space to match the dark and moody feel next door. The changes, like a new mirror installation, were made so the bar could sustain during and after the pandemic. No one knows when customers will feel comfortable to regularly hangout at bars. Nonetheless, MONEYGUN was cramped inside and customers often queued up along Lake Street to wait for a table. They needed more space.
“It’s going to be a while before we’re seeing people go elbow to elbow,” Mitchem says.
Beyond that, Mitchem says they’ve done a tasteful job with adding plastic barriers to provide customers with an additional layer of safety. QR codes for ordering drinks via phones are here to stay.
MONEYGUN has managed to draw one of the most diverse bar crowds in the neighborhood. Sports fans on their ways to the United Center met for pregame drinks. Office workers in suits and ties would hang out with friends after hours. Music lovers with dyed hair and patches on their jackets convened late night after a show at the nearby Bottom Lounge. MONEYGUN is run by 16” on Center, the restaurant group behind Thalia Hall, Empty Bottle, and Revival Food Hall. While MONEYGUN’s bartenders enjoy creating new drinks, there’s a focus on classics. It’s the atmosphere with a lean on hospitality that makes the bar special, Mitchem says.
One thing Mitchem wants to make clear: they took their time reopening the bar. They didn’t want add to the threat from COVID-19 and are taking precautions.
“I want people to trust us that we’re doing this the right way,” he says.