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A toast to Bonny's: So exactly what makes a bar great?

Raise you hand if you have been bummed out all day after finding out that Bonny's would be closing this weekend. Quite frankly, I haven’t been this sad about a bar closing since Sonotheque. Bars and restaurants close all the time in Chicago, but when it’s one that you frequent, it hits you in the gut. I have danced at Bonny’s to the point where I sweated through my shoes. I’ve made out in the bathroom. I’ve watched a lot of women wait ridiculously long amounts of time to use the bathroom because like 4 girls were in there at once doing God knows what. (What’s the deal with that, by the way? Is it a cocaine thing?) Last night, I even DJ’ed there. The bartender and a small group of us talked about well whiskey and how sometimes it’s better than the expensive stuff. Then a guy bought me a shot of Malort and I danced to Ginuwine. I love that damn place.

Seriously, it got me thinking though: What makes a quality bar? Is it the staff? The ability to get a drink as quickly as possible? Should they serve food? A variety of “bombs”? People with way more insight to the back-end of the nightlife business always point to iron-clad rules like “The place shouldn’t have TV’s” or “they shouldn’t have one of those engine-looking contraptions that dispense Jagermeister” or something of that nature.  I’m not an expert, but I’m willing to put my time logged in bars up against anyone in Chicago. Here are a few of my observations into what makes a great spot.

Diversity: I hope I'm not shocking anyone by mentioning that Chicago is a segregated city. Any opportunity to destroy that should not only appreciated, it should be embraced. White, black, brown, gay, straight, Logan Square hipster to Lincoln Park bro. A quality bar should not only be frequented by these types all-drinking together, it should be crammed to the gills with them.

There’s no pressure: Bars that are super high-intensity all the time are tiring. Bars that are pitch-black and filled with lifers glued to their chairs are depressing. You’ve got to have a balance. Chill if you want, go nuts if you feel. Premium watering holes shouldn’t make you have to choose.

Quality hooch: I appreciate craft cocktails, but super intense mixology and a guy with his tie tucked into his vest aren’t necessary in a great bar. Have a solid beer list. Have the alcohol on hand to make basic cocktails. Show love to the local brewers/distillers and showcase their works. Don’t serve anything whipped-cream flavored. (Note: Wine is a toss-up. I’m of the mindset that wine bars are their own beasts and should be differentiated and attended separately. If you ask for wine in a bar, you shouldn’t bitch if it isn’t a Chateau d’Yquem. Be happy it wasn’t served out of a bag.)

The music doesn’t suck: Be it a well-stocked jukebox or a DJ who doesn’t play “Levels”, music is so important. Nothing piped-in, no pre-approved playlists. If the bar is a chill mood, then let it be chill. If it’s time to do the damn thing, then let’s get it going. Music is a non-negotiable. Gotta have it.

Character! : Bars are more fun when they’re filled with interesting people on staff. My favorite bar in Chicago is Rossi’s Liquors on State. Most of that reason is because of Desiree, the bartender. She takes approximately .0005% shit from anybody and will curse you out, yet is the sweetest person in the world at the same time. People like her make you want to come back to a spot. IDGAF how hot a bartender is, but I do care how weak they make my whiskey soda. Be interesting, you get my $$$.

So here’s a toast to Bonny’s. I hope some other spot picks up the reigns and gives us all plenty of hangovers to come.

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