Clubs, lounges, bars — they come and go, especially in big cities like Chicago. Every few years or so (if owners are lucky to stick around that long), something new is needed, whether that’s a fresh coat of paint, a little menu tweaking, a name change or some hot DJs or events.
Adding a new event proved just the trick for Ontourage, a downtown Chicago nightclub institution with lots of neon lights, cream-of-the-crop DJs and a sweaty dance floor. Looking to boost revenues during off-peak hours, partner Mike David came up with a fun idea: transform the space into a Vegas-style (casino-like) comedy club before it opens to the public at 11:30 p.m. Melding comedy with the club scene was easy for David, who started Red Bar Radio (www.redbarradio.com), an online comedy radio show (with downloadable podcasts) seven years ago.
The online show, initially intended as a spoof on what David calls “bad” Chicago radio, went from just 100 subscribers in the first week to more than 40,000 today. The success has helped his newest venture too — David has strong ties to local comedians as well as to those who have moved elsewhere, like New York and LA. And he’s hired talent scouts to recruit even more funny folks.
So why the nightclub-comedy immersion? “We noticed there weren’t a lot of places to go for really good standup comedy in the city,” David says. “With Chicago being a world-class city, we should have a world-class comedy club. Red Bar is sort of a newer, hipper, fresher new spin on some of Chicago’s older comedy clubs. And you don’t have to just see a show; you can enjoy an entire night out afterward too.”
Ontourage plans to wave the cover charge and offer line-free entry to the club for Red Bar ticket holders, a hot commodity for the crowded spot. Every Friday and Saturday the club plans to host two 90-minute shows at 8 and 10 p.m. for just $10. They also plan to keep the lineup of five to seven specialty cocktails (no food) low as well, and wave the two-drink minimum required by most of the club’s competitors. But despite the lower prices, this extra revenue is a win-win for Ontourage’s owners.
“Nightclubs tend to not pick up until 11:30 or midnight anyway, so why not open earlier and have some business going? Then, by the time the club opens, we’ve got almost 200 people in the doors,” David explains.
Around town, a number of clubs have experimented with opening doors early for fashion shows, beauty events, networking get-togethers and other special events, but never before has a Chicago club delved in comedy.
David and Co. piloted the comedy shows back in January with much success. “We had to turn away 100 people every Saturday,” he says, adding that the shows seat 175 people.
Red Bar Comedy Club officially opens Friday, May 21, featuring local comedians Marty Derosa, James Fritz, Brian Babylon and Prescott Tolk. David plans to run an additional two shows on June 18 and 19, when TBS will be filming for its Just for Laughs Festival.