When news broke that Paul McGee was partnering with the Melman brothers on a bar in River North, there were more questions than answers. People wanted to know everything: Where's the bar going to be? What's it going to be called? Is it going to be tiki??
Today, TOC got some answers.
The McGee-Melman bar will be at 435 N Clark Street, in the space that formerly housed Frankie Z's. The Melmans previously announced that they were putting a barbecue-slinging country-western bar in that space, and that's true: It's called Bub City, which not-coincidentally was the name of a Lettuce restaurant (Bub City Crabshack and Bar BQ) that lived on Weed Street from 1988-1998. (That joint was before my time, but apparently the restaurant was well-loved—there's a Facebook page devoted to bringing it back.) McGee will design the cocktail program at Bub City, which will be heavy on brown spirits. He plans to have a well-curated collection of mostly-American whiskies behind the bar, as well as a lineup of whiskey-based cocktails. "So you're going to have variations of a whiskey sour—citrusy whiskey drinks. And we'll also have boozier whiskey drinks—your Old Fashioneds, classic twists on that," McGee says. He's also excited about having bubbly Bourbon cocktails such as the Presbyterian, a cocktail with Bourbon, ginger beer, bitters and lemon juice. (Those that follow cocktail trends may wonder if those bubbly Bourbon cocktails will be on tap. They probably won't. McGee says that, actually, they'll more likely be individually bottled.) Rounding out the Bub City cocktail program: Cocktails involving sweet tea, tea infusions, etc.
But enough about Bub City. Let's get to the tiki bar. Because yes, as many have already speculated, McGee and the Melmans are collaborating on a tiki bar. It will be housed in a 4000-square-foot space that is being built out below Bub City, but unlike SUB 51 and Studio Paris, the lower/upper-level club components to HUB 51 and Paris Club, the as-yet-unnamed tiki bar will be a completely different concept with its own entrance. Also, SUB and Studio Paris "are nightclubs," RJ Melman says. "[Bub City and the tiki bar] are not nightclubs."
"Nightclubs are more exclusive, and bars are more inclusive," he continues.
Indeed, at the tiki bar, "we're definitely going to be serious about the drinks, but that's about it," McGee says.
Tiki—neither the original wave, nor the current wave of tiki that's been happening on the coasts lately—is not dead, McGee says. "I think it's still in its infancy. It's resurging. The first wave of tiki stuck around for 40 years. What kind of killed tiki was the quality of the drink went down." For example, McGee was just on the West Coast where he visited an old-school tiki bar that shall remain unnamed. The creators of tiki would be "rolling in their graves" if they could have seen what McGee saw. "It was a pretty sad state of affairs," he says. The drinks were poor, and accordingly, "nobody was having any fun in that place."
The Mcgee-Melman tiki bar will be laid back and fun, the guys say. But it will maybe not have the kitsch. "It doesn't have to be pirate themed for it to be tiki and to be fun. I think we can do a modern interpretation of tiki." So: Tiki drinks that utilize Italian amari, or some interesting flavors of bitters. And, of course, fresh juices and good rum. (The guys plan to put together one of the best collections of rum in the city.)
Speaking of amari, there's one other spot McGee's cocktails will be available: RPM, the Italian spot with chef Doug Psaltis at the helm that will open in the former Ben Pao space in a matter of weeks. There will be 8-10 McGee-designed cocktails on that list, as well as an amaro list. McGee himself won't be behind the bar there, but if you really can't wait until the end of summer, when Bub City and the tiki spot are slated to open, for one of his cocktails—well, now you have a place to go.