Thick velvet curtains complement vivid crimson walls and leather furnishings at The Play Room, an upscale cocktail bar where area musicians echo over a menu laden with homemade Italian-American bites. An in-house chalkboard scrawled with daily specials and the correct spelling of the chef’s name, while twisty ribbons of gemelli pasta snake through the Famous Pasta Josephine’s panoply of spicy sausage, pecorino cheese, and house marinara cream. Libations flow from a full-service bar, where expert mixologists concoct specialty cocktails or pour one of a dozen wines in the flickering glow of an on-site fireplace, which casts its gauzy glow over the eatery’s dulcet lineup of local musicians.
Rose and Stanley Sacharski never meant to open a tiki bar. Their first watering hole, The Lucky Start on Fullerton and Lockwood, was a simple neighborhood tavern until some bamboo wall coverings inspired endless questions from customers: were they a tiki bar? By 1963, the Sacharskis decided their answer was yes, and let their young son pick a new name—Hala Kahiki—from a copy of Dennis the Menace Goes to Hawaii.
Now located inside a former greenhouse in River Grove, Hala Kahiki pours more than 100 tropical-themed cocktails, mingling rum with daiquiris and gin with tropical fruits. Hanging shells sway above the bamboo-lined bar, and rattan lampshades and cane chairs evoke the pleasures of an endless Hawaiian summer. Tables and chairs dot a spacious outdoor garden, and an on-site gift shop stocks Hawaiian shirts, leis, wood-hewn lamps, and several former cast members of Gilligan's Island.
Within the Martini Club's elegant confines, opulent chandeliers and blazing fireplaces illuminate brick walls and lustrous wooden floors, making it a posh place to pick over an eclectic menu rife with Cuban, American, Italian, Japanese, and other nations’ flavors. The spacious wrap-around bar doles out more martinis than you can slosh a glass at, and entrees such as the tuna tartar ($11) and steak brochettes ($12) demand taste buds’ attention. A sushi bar adds Japanese fresh-fish artistry to Martini Club's repertoire of world tastes. The seclusion of several intimate dining nooks ensconced by velvet burgundy curtains make Martini Club a romantic setting for admissions of love or twinning. Martini Club is open Thursdays through Sundays.
At Arabesk Palace, diners munch on marinated Middle Eastern eats, before smoking regular or special-blend hookah flavors. Shareable small plates—such as baba gannouj or grape leaves stuffed with ground beef—awaken eaters’ taste buds more pleasantly than swallowing a recording of reveille does. House-made toasted pita acts as chaperone for the rosemary chicken, which boogies all night with jalapeño and peppers in a spicy-tomato-sauce setting, and broiled beef shawarma crashes the party late with main squeeze tahini sauce. Servers pack hookahs with more than two dozen different hookah flavors, from Safari melon dew to vanilla, so that guests can blow smoke into rings or the shape of their missing car keys. Each week Arabesk Palace showcases the stylings of nationally known Arabic singers.
The LBGT-friendly Velvet Rope invites revelers with open minds and refined tastes to enhance their evenings with the lounge's slate of fine wines, international cuisine, and elaborate entertainment in the form of go-go dancers and drag shows. Beneath the suffuse lighting of tulip chandeliers, the bustling main floor hosts a full bar, where 35 specialty martinis brim with creative ingredients—such as cookie-dough vodka and absinthe—while the private VIP loft accommodates dozens with a dedicated server, a private television, and plush furnishings for late-night pillow forts. Food and drink packages deck out special events, and the nightclub's calendar overflows with karaoke nights, drink specials, and live performances.
Revelers gather around Lizard's Liquid Lounge's antique mahogany bar and intimate tables for open-mic nights, clothing swaps, burlesque shows, and darts and pool-league games. Three widescreen televisions draw gazes to tiny men engaged in sporting spectacles, while local and imported brews such as Rogue, Three Floyds, and Smithwick's whet palates. Homage Street Food's chefs operate out of a kitchen space adjacent to the lounge, where they craft dishes ranging from curry chips to char-grilled-beef sandwiches and chicken curry. Glossy oil paintings by Polish artist Tomek stand out from two-toned walls, and live music incites ears to waltz in 3/5 time on Friday and Saturday. Lizard's Liquid Lounge is a dog-friendly establishment.