Simone’s (Bar, Pilsen)
Location: 960 W. 18th St.
Phone: (312) 666-8601, 312-666-8605
Few neighborhoods have walked the line between maintaining ethnic authenticity and the slippery slope of gentrification as well as Pilsen. While the area surrounding 18th St is still predominantly Latino in its businesses, population and celebrated culture, there’s an infiltration of college students and artists that can’t be ignored. East Pilsen, or now commonly called the Chicago Art District, has been around since the 1960’s but only in the last decade has it taken on the feeling of gentrification, much the way Wicker Park began to feel in the early 1990’s. Simones, a swanky bar built from reclaimed pin ball machines and a bowling alley, is the perfect example of this hip Pilsen scene where an amalgamation of the neighborhoods various working parts all come together.
If there’s Chicago restaurateurs out there who know how and when to catch the wave of urban renewal it’s Russ and Desiree Grant, whose Bucktown bar Northside and Logan Square bar Streetside Café have both been neighborhood pioneers that now cash in on large crowds of the more affluent residents. Another mogul of the same ilk would be Michael Noone whose chain of Francesca Italian eateries and dark hipster oasis Danny’s have flourished under the same anticipatory moves. Thus, it’s fitting that all three would get together and open Pilsen’s first real hipster bar, completely gutting the interior and designing the entire place with funky salvaged lab equipment, church pews, game parts and various custom architectural pieces. This was done with the appeal of Pilsen’s artists in mind, a 1,000 square foot private event space built in the back called Simone’s Lab where they’ll eventually host after parties for the 2nd Fridays art walk along with various speaking events. There’s a preservation effort in this part of town that can be very picky so it’s nice to know that the creators of Simone’s tried to uphold the Art District’s flavor.
Speaking of flavor, the food and beverage list is nothing to gloss over. Their menu is composed of high end bar food and a few Hispanic influenced items with the expected chef inspired liberties. Their empanadas are very good though less authentic then the ones made down the street at Nuevo Leon. They’ve probably executed a small enough nod to Mexican cooking to be respectful of the hood while not actually attempting to compete with the authentic flavors found in the local joints. In typical fashion I mostly come here for the drinks, perusing their rotating draughts and respectable local brews while losing myself in whatever retro black and white film they have muted on the pin ball machine.
If you’re in Pilsen and looking for a “hip bar” then Simone’s is your best option; it might even be your only option. With that said, Simone’s would hold up as a great bar in any neighborhood and is surely worth a visit. The transformation of a neighborhood doesn’t have to be bad or good, it’s a natural process made easier when the entrepreneurs seek to honestly reflect the wants and needs of its residents. Simone’s is as eclectic as Pilsen itself and deserves to be a highlight on your lifelong Chicago adventure.