Chicago nightlife powerhouses aim lassoes at country fans

Where will Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert and the celebrities on hand for their highly anticipated concert Saturday at Wrigley Field hang out once the show ends?

Even a few years ago, they only would have had a few country music-friendly options other than Joe’s Bar on Weed Street. But with the addition of Houndstooth Saloon in Lakeview and The Pony in the Roscoe Village neighborhood in recent years and two country-themed venues on the way in River North, it’s becoming a lot easier for high-profile country artists (and the Chicago celebs who love them) to get their fix.

The Melman siblings, R.J. and Jerrod — whose portfolio includes River North celebrity favorites Hub 51, Paris Club and RPM Italian — are teaming with Joe’s founders Ed Warm and Tom DiSanto to open the country/Western bar and restaurant Bub City in the old Frankie Z’s spot at 435 N. Clark St. Bub City is scheduled to open at the end of the summer or early fall and will feature a stage for country acts to perform live.

“Bub City will lend itself to a different vibe than Joe’s — a little more intimate,” Warm said by email. “We've talked to a number of major artists that want to try new material in a major market without the pressure of ticket sales or a full production, so Bub City will lend itself perfectly.”

Not surprisingly, the majority of Chicago’s famous country fans are athletes born outside of the city. That list includes the Bears’ Jay Cutler, who attended Lambert’s show at Joe’s last June with fiancee Kristin Cavallari and has been spotted at Houndstooth; teammate Brian Urlacher, who was on hand for Carrie Underwood’s show at Joe’s in December of 2009; the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, who escorted his sister to Taylor Swift’s 2009 concert at the Allstate Arena; and the White Sox’s Jake Peavy, who has been known to stop by The Pony.

Does Warm worry that Bub City will hurt Joe’s celeb clientele?

“I am confident they will be at both,” said Warm, who hinted at a possible after-party at Joe’s following Saturday’s show at Wrigley. “We have a very loyal fan base coming to Joe’s. I think Bub City just gives people another option for country fans in River North. … Joe's will always be a place to see a great concert. Bub City is going to be a place to hang for a chance to see someone starting out or a major artist popping in unannounced.”

Meanwhile, Rockit Ranch Productions, owner of Sunda, The Underground, Rockit Bar & Grill and Rockit Burger Bar, also is throwing a 10-gallon hat in the ring with Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ. The restaurant is scheduled to open on Clark Street right next to Bub City. And like the barbecue food on the menu, the Americana music (country, blues and rock) playing in the restaurant will have an Asian influence.

“I’ve been researching how big country (music culture) is in Asia,” Rockit Ranch CEO Billy Dec said by email. “I love these groups that are doing American country in Chinese or Japanese — it’s a trip.”

The Pony primarily plays the biggest hits out of Nashville at the moment as well as classics from the genre. That’s likely what has attracted country artists such as Rascal Flatts, Gary Allan and Tyler Reeve to the bar. According to Mark Domitrovich, co-owner of Pioneer Tavern Group, which also runs Lottie’s Pub in Bucktown and Frontier in Noble Square, some athletes have already signed up for the buses that take patrons from The Pony to country concerts and back.

Asked if he was nervous about the increase in competition, Domitrovich said by email, “The Pony has been a staple for athletes and celebrities for years; it's got its own vibe.”

Twitter @aboutluisgomez

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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