Despite a rocky pandemic start, the ‘20s — that is, the 2020s — have roared into Chicago. In a strikingly apropos turn of events, the era has also resurrected a hospitality trend with deep, nostalgic roots in the city. Speakeasy-style bars, moody bar spaces that harken back to the hidden drinking dens of Prohibition, are back with a vengeance and cropping up around town.
Local barbecue mini-chain PorkChop is among those catching the rising tide of covert Jazz age-influenced cocktail bars with Meet & Whiskey, tucked behind its fourth location at 6341 N. Broadway Street near the Loyola University campus.
PorkChop, which opened its first location on Randolph Street, first came up with the idea for Meet & Whisky in 2016 when it converted its basement into a bar. This isn’t the owner’s first bar. In 2019, they opened the Hyde in Hyde Park with an infamous set of rules that rankled Cubs fans and supporters of President Trump. Ownership said everyone needed to lighten up; the rules were never meant to be enforced.
Located inside the former home of Hamilton’s, a storied collegiate watering hole that closed in 2012 after eight decades in business, Meet & Whiskey sets the stage for patrons even before they step inside. The inconspicuous entrance, a metal door marked only with a red light, is accessible through the alley east of Broadway Street and south of Devon Avenue. Those inclined toward method acting can peruse Instagram for a rotating password but unlike the bar’s illicit predecessors, a code isn’t required.
A floor-to-ceiling tribute to Prohibition-era nostalgia, Meet & Whiskey has room for 75 inside its low-lit space filled with roomy leather couches and banquette-style booths. Weathered whiskey barrel tables offer an aesthetic nod to the practice of bootlegging, while baroque wallpaper and vintage sconce light fixtures lend an air of opulence. The bar is punctuated by a stage draped in red velvet curtains where revelers can see live music, burlesque, and cabaret performances.
As its name makes abundantly clear, whiskey is the Edgewater bar’s liquor of choice with bottles prominently displayed on shelves behind the bar. Drinkers can also find a menu of cocktail riffs on Prohibition favorites and a rotating special like the Bessie Coleman (vodka, cranberry, pomegranate) that raised funds for the Chicago Foundation of Women in March. The team is also featuring a seasonally rotating menu of small dishes.
As barflies and cocktail fans may recall, this is not the first rodeo for speakeasy-style bars. Milk & Honey, founded in 1999 in New York City, is credited with bringing new attention to the under-the-radar approach and spawning a ripple effect throughout the cocktail industry nationwide. But in Chicago, a city rich with romanticized gangster mythology, it seems that the public’s thirst for the retro style never really abated.
Explore Meet & Whiskey in the photographs below.
Meet & Whiskey, 6341 N. Broadway Street, Open 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.