Benchmark: Pubby Turns Clubby in ChicagoJuly 21, 2010 By: Amelia Levin
Pub/sports bar operator Four Corners Tavern Group stepped out of their comfort zone and stepped it up a notch with its latest project Benchmark, a more stylish lounge/nightclub-type venue, set to open at the end of this month in the Old Town neighborhood, near Chicago’s Gold Coast.
Veterans of the college sports-viewing, beer and burger-feasting scene, co-owner Matt Menna and crew decided to go a little more sleek, a little more upscale, and a lot more sophisticated with Benchmark. This feel not only matches the slightly more affluent, 30-plus residential area, but it also gives the 20-something Lincoln Park neighborhood followers something with more scene, drama and ambiance. However, that doesn’t take away from the sophistication and well-designed Four Corners’ locations either (Schoolyard, Gaslight, Brownstone, West End, Sidebar, Crossing and Kirkwood, which opened almost each year respectively since 2001).
On an initial tour of the space, Benchmark has a slightly more upscale style than the sports bar look. It features light slate-colored stone walls offset by rich mahogany wood, iron-clad railings and stainless steel accents throughout including on the the legs of the leather high-top seats that are placed throughout the two-floor, roughly 8,000-square-foot space. High-backed, chocolate-leather booths hide retractable flat-screen TVs (46 in all throughout) during the late-night weekend hours, and an expansive island-center bar, stocked with bottles and gold-embossed beer taps, also features a side-by-side series of six TVs that can play one channel or multiple ones at the same time.
“We’re going a little fancier and nicer, but we’re still going to be a great neighborhood bar,” says Ryan Indovina, a director with Four Corners.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the bar and lounge, aside from the double-sided bar downstairs, is the upstairs indoor/outdoor rooftop space that wraps around the first floor with an open middle for plenty of bi-level people-watching (seats lining an overlooking catwalk help).
But the custom-made retractable roof is the focal point of this venue – during warmer months the glass panels slide on top of each other to let in a cool breeze and show off the starry skies. During the winter, the roof will remain closed like an airy and bright sunroof. In the decades of living in Chicago, this retractable roof certainly seems to be the first of its kind around town.
Opposite the second bar upstairs (set along the back), a lounge area with sleek, black leather couches and loveseats, boasts a bit of carpeting to offset noise for a quieter space up against the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the building (which also open up).
By featuring specialty cocktails on the bar menu and staying open later, Benchmark is hoping to attract the same crowd that has been coming to Four Corners for years but who are seeking a more sophisticated and upscale nightlife venue. In the future, Indovina and his team hope to recruit live DJs, which would add to the ambiance, creating a club vibe that can’t be denied.
“We wanted to blend into the neighborhood and catch who’s walking up and down Wells Street, maybe coming from Topo Gigio or 33 Club or Old Town Social,” Indovina says. Wells Street in Old Town is known for its slew of mainstay restaurants and bars, so newcomers are not just welcomed, they’re anticipated. And with hours until 2 a.m. on weeknights, 3 a.m. on weekends, Benchmark will surely not just fit in, but also bring a bit more life to the street.