Axios Chicago

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Programming note: We're off Monday for Presidents Day, but look out for a special edition newsletter tomorrow morning from the Axios newsroom. Excited to hear what you think!

Today's newsletter is 825 words — a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: New private social clubs

Astor Club. Photo courtesy of Astor Club

There's new competition in Chicago's social club scene, seeking to tap into a crowd of wealthy, young professionals looking to connect in a post-pandemic, remote work world.

The big picture: Private social clubs have existed in Chicago for more than a century, but they haven't always rolled out the welcome mat for younger members. That's starting to change, as venture capital funds, hospitality groups and other collectives launch modern spaces with enticing perks.

Driving the news: Chicago hospitality giant Lettuce Entertain You and New York-based Tao Group Hospitality are bringing a hot, new private club to River North.

  • Lettuce Entertain You originally said the club was to open by the end of last year, but the rescheduled opening date remains unknown. A Lettuce spokesperson tells Axios there are no updates at this time.
Interior of restaurants with large glass chandelier, bookshelves and man sitting at a table on a laptop.
A Saturday morning at Soho House. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

State of play: Soho House set the scene for the hip upscale social club model in Chicago in 2014, when it launched in the West Loop.

  • The club, which caters to Chicago's creative community, has a rooftop pool, screening room, gym, spa, and live music and other events. It also offers a Soho Fellows program — giving some artists a year of free membership to grow their network.
  • There are three restaurants open to the public and events spaces available to rent.
  • Membership fees start at about $600 per quarter and are discounted to around $300 per quarter for members under 27 years old.

The latest: Astor Club, an operation by husband-and-wife duo Adam and Victoria Bilter, joined the private social club scene last summer.

  • Opening in the former Maxim's de Paris spot at Astor and Goethe streets in the Gold Coast, the club is leaning into its rich history.

Flashback: The gold and maroon velvet-adorned speakeasy was the place to see and be seen from the 1960s to 1980s, and photos of its famous attendees, like Frank Sinatra and The Beatles, line the walls.

  • The Bilters purchased it in 2022, and Adam Bilter tells Axios that the club now has 360 members and that most live within blocks of the venue.

Details: Beyond the speakeasy, Astor Club has a dining room with live music, meeting and event spaces and, of course, a "dress to impress" dress code.

  • Membership costs $5,000 to join plus $300 a month. It gives you access to a chauffeur service, tickets to concerts and sporting games, local hotel member rates and a lineup of social events.

What they're saying: "We have offered history talks, sports talks, the Stradivari Society did a private concert with $52 million worth of violins, theme dinners, whiskey and wine tastings, dance parties," Adam Bilter tells Axios.

  • "Overall I feel like it's turning into just a nice neighborhood place, with the added benefit of being private, and our members are able to meet and socialize with other members."

Keep reading

2. Popularity Contest: Architectural Artifacts to go

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🏛️ You looked back nostalgically at stories about the upcoming closing of Architectural Artifacts and about other local businesses that recently departed.

🍦 Readers had an appetite for our story about problems with McDonald's soft serve machines even as Shamrock Shake season comes into bloom.

❤️ Many swooned over our list of Chicago's most romantic streets.

🔉 You paid attention to our story outlining the still unclear future of gunshot detection technology ShotSpotter in the city.

3. Why you should visit Navy Pier now

Paintings in the Perspectives exhibition at Navy Pier including Akindele John's "My Heroes" (far right) and "Writers on the Roof" by Joyce Owens at the far left. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

👋 Hey, it's Monica.

Like a lot of Chicagoans, I'd long seen Navy Pier as mostly an expensive tourist trap.

Yes, but: I recently revisited it with fresh eyes and a fresh palate. Here are some reasons I fell in love with it again.

🖼️ Incredible free art: Since last October the Pier has featured a breathtaking show of African American visual art called "Perspective: An Exhibition of Fine Art Work Presented By Diasporal Rhythms." It runs through February.

  • The exhibition presents more than 55 important, beautiful and thought-provoking works by some of the world's top Black visual artists, including Paul Branton, George Crump, Susan Clinard and Woodrow Nash.
paintings on wall
Paintings in the Perspectives show at Navy Pier including "Guilty" (far left) by Thomas Williams. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Of note: The show is tucked way back in the lower level of the Pier's Festival Hall, between garage doors 10 and 12. Don't miss it!

😋 The city's best Italian beef: On a tip from former Tribune reporter Nick Kindelsperger, I stopped by Ciccio, a food stand near Chicago Shakespeare (currently presenting "Richard III" and "Illinoise"), and found Italian beef nirvana for $11.95.

  • Compared with regular beefs, this meat is thicker and steakier, with rich gravy, unconventional but delicious roasted potatoes, and crusty bread made in Canada but proofed and finished here daily.
 beef sandwich
An unconventional but delicious Italian beef sandwich from Ciccio. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

🕺 Interactive dancing: Few visitors know that the blue screens at the end of the main entrance hall will mirror your actions with artistic drawings if you dance in front of them.

  • I could goof around here all day. But when pesky kids see my cool moves (my kids included), they often nudge me out of the way.
GIF of a woman dancing
Video of Monica dancing courtesy of Melody Mercado.

More things to do

Edited by Alexa Mencia and copy edited by Rob Reinalda.

ğŸŽ‰ Carrie is heading to the Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown … for the first time ever!

🍗 Monica is gathering Chicago-style BBQ questions for a summit she'll participate in at Lexington Betty's next Sunday covering our city's barbecue legacy. You can get your ticket for the discussion and a tasting here.

ğŸŽ¤ Justin is pumped that Chicago comedian Reena Calm is back in town. She'll be headlining Zanies tomorrow.

Want more Axios Chicago content? Check out our Instagram for extra stuff to do, behind the scenes photos, videos and more!