The East Room was one of the city’s most influential bars, as the Logan Square music venue brought together communities with concerts and art. Weekend crowds crammed into the space for five years until ownership closed in November 2019, right before COVID became a household term in the Americas.
“I have just beautiful memories of East Room,” Zack Eastman says. “There was really, really cool shit that happened there. It was a huge part of my life, I think it was for a lot of other people too.”
Ownership’s intentions were to remodel the interiors and open up the back space into a patio. Contrary to popular belief, the East Room isn’t named after Eastman, held a small role in the original venue. He and his new ownership group took over the space in 2020 with plans for an all-day cafe and wine bar where patrons could sip coffee during the day and switch to natural wine and cocktails at night. Eastman called the revamp Easy Does It, hoping to show customers that they didn’t have to be experts in grape varietals or regions to enjoy the beverage.
“During that time, we didn’t know how long it would last,” Eastman says, recalling how the pandemic restrictions began in March 2020 across Illinois. Easy Does It would debut in August 2020, limited by the suspension of indoor dining and only offering patio service with customers using QR codes — a strange endeavor back then — to place orders. Eastman, who also co-owns Dorian’s in Wicker Park, was just trying to keep his businesses afloat and his staff healthy. They’re not Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises or One Off Hospitality: “We’re scrappy, we got through with what we had and we really pushed ourselves to do our best,” he says.
Twenty-seven months later, Easy Does It is ready to open its interiors to the general public. The opening will take place Friday, March 11 at 2354 N. Milwaukee Avenue. And though ownership has additional plans for the space later this year, they’re eager to show off the transformed insides for the first time: “It’s been an interesting ride and journey,” Eastman says.
The pandemic and snarled business meant ownership had to wait to raise funds to complete the renovation. They added a few more windows to bring more light into the East Room’s dark space. Just Coast Design, which also worked on Dorian’s, transformed the venue into a place that will eventually house power outlets and have Internet so customers work away from home. The walls include paintings by Rello Jones, co-founder of Fat Tiger Works, a streetwear shop and frequent collaborator at the East Room. Eastman says Jones’ work is a nod to the space’s illustrious past. The wallpaper is from local artist Lauren Burger.
Eastman, part of the same group that brought the Saved by the Bell pop-up to Chicago, started to get into wine a few years ago. He feels a new energy in Chicago’s wine scene with players like Slik Wines, Los Naturales, Bummer Wines, and All Together Now whittling away at the stigma that wine is reserved for fine dining or stodgy dinner parties. Eastman says Easy Does It is keeping bar counter service as he wants to keep the venue casual. He says the easiest way to increase wine’s accessibility is to serve it alongside a Miller High Life or cocktail.
“When our friends that used to go to East Room come by and see what we’re doing, we hear words like ‘this space really grew up with us,’” Eastman says. “That stuff really hits home to me.”
Easy Does It still has a DJ booth, and music remains a major part of the space, but it’s not the same as the late-night parties East Room served up. Eastman says there’s about 100 bottles of wine available with prices ranging from $40 to “the hundreds.” The wines by the glass will rotate every month and with prices starting at $9. The menu is divided by whites, reds, orange, rosé, and sparkling with two selections each. Eastman says he’s curating the selections. There’s also cheese program with domestic selections, tinned fished, and other snacks. For bigger appetites, management encourages customers to order food from a local restaurant.
For now, Easy Does It will only open at 5 p.m., but Eastman sees potential for day service with coffee from a local roaster; something to attract laptop workers. They’ll also host events as on March 18 and 19, they’ll host wine tastings as part of Third Coast Soif, a wine fest that’s been dormant for the last two years due to the pandemic.
“Our core values are still there,” Eastman says. “It’s casual — we want people to come in, enjoy each other’s company and enjoy a beverage.”
Easy Does It, 2354 N. Milwaukee Avenue, open 5 p.m. to midnight on Wednesday and Sunday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.