The Rainbo Connection
Or How We Brought Books and Cocktails to an Iconic Chicago Bar; Plus "On a Toot!"; Books; and Odds and Ends.
The first time I heard of the Rainbo Club was when Mary Kate texted me from there several years ago. She was in Chicago catching up with friends. It was one of her favorite bars, she told me, a hangout of her salad days in Chicago, the best bar. I had never heard of it.
A year later, I was in Chicago on business. Mary Kate said I had to go the Rainbo Club while I was there. I filed the suggestion away. The business was a book signing at The Violet Hour, the craft cocktail mecca. The signing was a bit of a bust, so I was anxious for a change of atmosphere that took me away from the haute cocktail circles I was traveling in. I started walking south down North Damon. According to the map, the Rainbo Club was eight blocks away.
The first thing I noticed was the sign, a classic neon number with the letters of the “Rainbo” spelled vertically and “Club” horizontally and in cursive. There was also a neon cocktail glass between the two words. The second thing I noticed was “Rainbo” had no “w.” Odd. You couldn’t see in the windows. The one-story brick building looked like a bunker.
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I went in. It was a square room that had been made the most of. There were red leather booths lining the wall to the right. To the left was a bar roughly in the shape of a ziggurat, with corners and angles to spare. Behind the bar was a small stage with a scalloped canopy and pillars on either side. This, I later learned, used to be occupied by polka bands back in the days when the Rainbo was a Polish bar.
Wood paneling climbed the walls up until about the five-foot mark. The floor was black-and-red-checked linoleum. In the back, near the restrooms, was an old-fashioned photo booth.
It was, in short, a near perfect bar interior and looked like it had gone untouched for 80 years. I stood at the bar and ordered a shot of bourbon and a Miller High Life. (It goes without saying that there was no cocktail menu.) I liked the bar a lot. I liked it for its atmosphere and timeless quality. And I liked that it had nothing to do with anything I wrote about. There were no mixed drinks in sight. When at the Rainbo Club, I could be off-duty.