As pandemic lockdowns kept Chicago’s theaters shuttered throughout much of 2020 and 2021, staff at the nonprofit performance facility Stage 773 in Lakeview grappled with a single pervasive question: How could they get local artists back to work?
“At that time, we took a moment and a breath to reimagine the space,” says executive director Jill Valentine. “And we’ve always wanted to do an immersive experience.”
The resulting idea is Whim, a multi-phase experiential theater concept that will launch inside Stage 773 this June beginning with an immersive cocktail bar located within the theater’s newly renovated lobby. Inside, guests can order a series of interactive cocktails with participatory elements, a feature that’s designed to “blur this idea between artists and audience,” producer Brad Younts says.
“Whether it’s spritzing [the drink] with something extra, taking a pipette and adding a little flavor [or] changing the color, there’s an interactive element that brings guests into the experience and allows them to co-create with the professional behind the bar,” he says.
Whim’s playful drink menu includes cocktails like Chain Smoker (tequila, mezcal and agave syrup topped with cherry wood smoke and a spritz of orange zest) and Fluffy Punch (rum, pineapple juice and housemade raspberry syrup finished with lemon lime soda and cotton candy). And if you feel like your cocktail could use a little something extra, just wander to the other side of the lobby, where a rolling drink cart will offer opportunities to add final touches like a sprig of basil or a shot of syrup.
Once guests have their drinks, they can wander through the space and explore new features ranging from interactive art to an “enchanted forest” experience, all of which were created by local set designers. Until the bar opens, staff say they’d prefer not to get too specific about what it looks like (“There’s something really magical about walking into the space for the first time not knowing what you’re about to walk into,” Younts explains), but added that it will feature found and reused art.
“You’re sitting and having a cocktail inside an art piece,” Valentine says.
The cocktail bar is just phase one of a multi-stage rollout for Whim. Eventually, the team plans to unveil 25 to 30 interactive spaces designed by artists as well as a larger experiential theater experience—including performances from musicians, actors, dancers and more—at some point later this year. In the meantime, guests can visit the cocktail lounge and catch regular events like game nights and live music on Saturday nights, or sign up for Whim's email list to be alerted about new phases.
Whim, located at 1225 W Belmont Ave, opens June 25. Hours are Wednesday through Thursday from 6pm–midnight, Friday through Saturday 5pm–2am and Sunday noon–8pm.