The red carpet is being rolled out this Friday for the grand opening of iO's new location at 1501 North Kingsbury Street. While the stars will be out this weekend to celebrate the comedy landmark's expansive new space, we snuck a peek during the current soft opening to see what's notable at the new address.
It's not as easy to find. The old Clark Street building was nestled among the bustling thoroughfare of Wrigleyville, but the Kingsbury spot is tucked away in a quiet corner, away from the nearby North Avenue shops. The new location is only a tenth of a mile further away from the North/Clybourn Red Line station than the previous one was from the Addison stop, but it's a far less lively stroll. Gone is Wrigley Field and its accompanying collection of bars and boisterous patrons—in its place is a walk through a collection of largely nondescript buildings. It's more peaceful, but when leaving a late-night show, it can also be a bit eerie.
You can drive there. Everyone knows Wrigleyville is a nightmare for drivers, but since most of the Kingsbury location's neighbors are big stores, there are a few nearby parking garages. We also spied a valet station out front when we went to a Saturday evening show (no such luck on the weekdays). Given how generously the bar pours drinks, we'd still recommend catching a bus, train or cab, but at least your options are open.
There’s a huge bar. The bars at the old iO were tiny and cramped and not exactly conducive to hanging out and having a drink. Now, the bar is the centerpiece of the spacious lobby. Just past the box office, there’s a big round bar serving beers (like Goose Island Green Line), wine and cocktails (like a pretty decent $10 Manhattan). iO wants neighborhood people to just stop in for drinks, and it’s not a bad idea—there are also couches and high top tables scattered around the space. As a bonus, performers were hanging out at the bar before and after shows, so it’s a good time to chat up your favorite improviser. And if you feel like taking your beverage outside for sip, there's a spacious beer garden alongside the building.
There’s a new food menu. The food menu at the first location consisted of a pizza, pretzels or chips. Now the menu is a little more extensive, with housemade dips, a variety of empanadas with fillings like buffalo chicken, mac and cheese croquettes, and housemade bacon goat cheese dip. You can eat at the bar or order snacks from your table inside the theater.
Same great comedy, twice as much of it. With the expanded space, iO has doubled the number of theaters from two to four. There are two mainstage theaters on the first floor and a pair of cabarets upstairs. iO favorites like The Armando Diaz Experiment and the regular Harold shows are still gracing the stages. Improv masters TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi are renting the main floor's Mission Theatre, which will feature the duo's weekly show, as well a new sketch show that they're directing. With four stages and near-constant programming, there's always something on at the new iO.