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Mini-review: The Grid

Sizing up the lounge below new River North restaurant Baume & Brix

By Lisa Arnett, @redeyeeats

October 31, 2012

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When a bar opens downtown, there’s really only one thing I want to know: Will it be someplace I actually want to hang out or better left to the tourists?

On Michigan Avenue, Hard Rock Hotel’s sleek sushi-and-saketini spot China Grill has been replaced with Chuck’s Manufacturing, a spunkier, laid-back bar with the potential to lure locals working at nearby Illinois Center.

Meanwhile, on the west end of River North where Hubbard Street dead ends into Kingsbury, the two-floor space vacated by Latin dance club Rumba also has a new life. Below Baume & Brix, an inventive new restaurant from a team of ex-Moto and Ing chefs on the main floor, there’s a lower-level lounge called The Grid run by the same team. In their new incarnations, do either of these downtown bars have what it takes to transcend the touristy set and become your new regular hangout?
>>Jump to our review of Chuck's Manufacturing 

Mini-review: The Grid
351 W. Hubbard St. 312-321-1351
Rating: !! (out of 4) Give it some time

The scene: What kind of bar is this exactly? Dozens of TVs tuned to ESPN scream “sports bar,” while a DJ booth, cocktail waitresses in skimpy dresses and tufted booths (priority seating for bottle service) skew clubby. On a recent weekend, partiers hovered near the bar or the booths—which are centered around eye-catching metal fireplaces suspended from the ceiling--with little interest in filling the rows of long tables in between.

The drinks: The cocktail menu features five options until a full list of a dozen debuts Nov. 8. For now, I wouldn’t bother with anything but these two: A champagne cocktail with St. Germain elderflower liqueur and hibiscus syrup was equally sweet and strong, while the Boulevardier (Woodford Reserve bourbon, Campari and vermouth) was a decent rendition of the classic cocktail. The others are the same price ($12) but didn’t deliver much of a punch: The coconut-ginger Thai mojito was watery and the Grid Cup (a melon-flavored spin on the classic Pimm’s Cup) tasted like weak lemonade. After 9 p.m., the before mentioned fireplace booths are reserved for The Grid’s version of bottle service: Vodka with your choice of house-made sodas such as spiced plum or pineapple-tarragon runs $250-$500, while $325 buys you all the manhattans a bottle of Woodford Reserve can make.

The food: The dismissive way our server described the bar snacks--”We have fries, popcorn, chips and peanuts”--undersold what the chefs really have cooking, which are funky flavored treats such as pad Thai peanuts or root beer popcorn that change daily ($2-$3). My friends and I didn’t really know what we had ordered until it arrived, and that was after our server came by and blurted, “Did you get your food yet?” while staring at our clearly empty table. A dinner menu will be added Nov. 8, but I can’t say I’m dying to go back and try it; a bar that expects customers to shell out for bottle service could afford to step up its service.

Overheard: The attendant in the women’s restroom proclaimed that she’s “working for tips, ladies.”

Bottom line: Too precious for mainstream sports fans and not yet happening enough for the club set, The Grid needs some time to figure out its identity. Right now, the coolest thing about it is those floating fireplaces.

Reporters visit bars unannounced and drinks are paid for by RedEye. lmarnett@tribune.com | @redeyeeats

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