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California Clipper
Photograph: Zach Long

California Clipper is reopening with a new lounge for dancing

The beloved bar returns on February 24, accompanied by a new lounge (the former home of C.C. Ferns) that hosts DJs.

Zach Long
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Zach Long
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Beloved Humboldt Park bar the California Clipper closed during the pandemic, but the vintage light fixtures inside the tavern are glowing red once more. On Thursday, February 24, the bar's new operators Orbit Group (Good Measure, Segnatore) will open its doors for the first time since 2020, allowing guests to order a cocktail and slide into one of the red leather booths. Don't worry—not much has changed at the Clipper.

“There is a fresh coat of paint, the sign has been updated and there's new carpet on the stage. Other than that the space is the same on purpose, because as far as we were concerned the space is perfect,” general manager Carly Brown explained.

The one major addition is a new lounge located in the adjacent space that formerly housed coffee shop C.C. Ferns, which is currently being called "The Little Clip." Local firm Siren Betty Design handled the renovations to the space (along with some small upgrades to the main bar), building a custom sapele wood and Formica bar featuring a curved back and mirrors that echoes the design of the original bar. The lounge's old linoleum floor was replaced with a new material that matches the original's coloring and the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling were sourced from the recently shuttered Southport Lanes in Lakeview.

According to Brown, the small room will pay homage to Danny's—the defunct Bucktown bar where some of the Clipper's current staff once worked—equipped with a DJ booth and an intimate space for late-night dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. During the rest of the week, it could function as overflow seating or a place to listen to the live music in the main room while chatting with friends.

California Clipper lounge
Photograph: Zach Long

Music supervisor Jesse Sandvik describes a symbiosis between the lounge and the Clipper's main stage, which has been retrofitted with new Tannoy speakers—the same kind of speakers used by bands like the Beatles and Pink Floyd in the legendary Abbey Road recording studio. Live music is currently scheduled for Monday and Thursday nights and the types of performers taking the stage will be as varied as previous iterations of the Clipper, highlighting the "Chicago traditions of music," including dance, soul, R&B, jazz and Latin acts.

“We want to highlight record shops and record labels here in Chicago, perhaps having a jazz band [perform on the stage] and then members of the band or representatives of that label DJ in the backroom afterwards or in-between sets,” Sandvik said.

The varied programming is already reflected in the coming weeks. On Friday, February 25, Chicago singer-songwriter KAINA will host a listening party for her sophomore release It Was A Home in the bar, followed by a DJ set from local selector Nosha Luv. And on March 8, Eva La Feva performs during a burlesque night that's set to return to the Clipper every other month.

Guests will find a revamped selection of cocktails, beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages available to enjoy while listening to music or chatting with friends. Beverage director Kristina Magro has assembled an "inviting, accepting and open" menu of drinks, focusing on classic cocktails and a few signature creations. Brown notes that bartenders are able to serve classic cocktails that aren't listed on the menu—the options presented have been paired down to make it easier for indecisive drinkers to settle on an order. Drink options will be the same at the original bar and in the lounge, aside from a selection of highballs that you'll only be able order in the main room.

After the sudden closure of the Clipper in 2020 and the revelation that a new group of operators were stepping in to revive it, the team is eager to show off the new lounge and see how former regulars react to the largely-unchanged main bar.

“The pressure we've put on ourselves surmounts what the public has done, so we're just really excited to open the doors,” Brown said.

The California Clipper officially reopens on Thursday, February 24 and will be open daily from 4pm–2am. Check out photos of the original bar and the new lounge below.

California Clipper
Photograph: Zach Long
California Clipper
Photograph: Zach Long
California Clipper
Photograph: Zach Long
California Clipper
Photograph: Zach Long
California Clipper
Photograph: Zach Long
California Clipper
Photograph: Zach Long
California Clipper
Photograph: Zach Long

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