Three straight men are now running two new business concepts at one of the most popular intersections of Chicago's Boystown community in Lakeview. They know the spotlight is shining brightly on their every move, especially as they launch both during Pride Month and with an additional onslaught of revelers in the area during the mega-popular North Halsted Market Days in August.
"We could have done what everyone else had done before us, and that is just repackage [a business after buying it], and not be willing to take some risks. But with great risk comes great reward," said Jason Zilberbrand, 40, who grew up in Lakeview, now lives in the West Loop, and is the co-owner ( with Jordan Zabinger, 30, and general manager James Rhine, 38 ) of the property at the northwest corner of Halsted and Belmont streets, which formerly housed Spin Nightclub.
There are now Whiskey Trust and Chloe'sthe two new businesses that encompass the near-11,000-square-foot facility that previously was Spin, including a little-known outdoor garden that certainly should grow to be as popular in the summer as the rooftop deck at Sidetrack.
Both will open Thursday, June 19.
"We are bringing something to this neighborhood that doesn't exist right now. We think we are going to be the blueprint for this area going forward," Zilberbrand said.
Spin closed in late May when it was announced by former Spin owner Dave Gassman that the bar had been soldand renovation/construction at the property started immediately, which Zilberbrand said is in excess of $1 million. He also said the deal to purchase Spin was agreed before the end of 2013, though it didn't became public knowledge that Spin was even for sale until this past February.
"Dave had an icon in this neighborhood. Spin is special to a lot of people. And Spin will have a special place in everyone's heart, forever," Zilberbrand said.
Rhine added, "There are aspects of what we're doing that still will incorporate [the old] Spin."
Such as, old signage that does not include the name Spin will be used, "as an homage," Rhine said.
Zilberbrand said Whiskey Trust and Chloe's will have a "very, very, very large presence" at Pride and Market Days. "I think everyone is going to be watching us to see what we're going to do as straight owners," he said. "But I'm in touch with this community," regardless of my sexual orientation.
"There will be nuances of what Spin once was so people understand that we have not turned our back on what Spin once was. That said, it's our opportunity to demonstrate our product to a worldwide audience."
As for the enormous rainbow flag that waved from the building during Pride, it's not going anywhere. In fact, "it was not an option" to not have the flag, said Zilberbrand, whose crew told Gassman early on that it really wanted to keep the flag.
There will be the entertainment factor for Market Days and the Parade that are Spin-like, said Zilberbrand, who confirmed that it "possibly" will include scantily clad dancers.
Despite the spotlight, none of the three are nervous. In fact, Zilberbrand added, "I thrive in pressure-cooker situations … and this is a challenge, being a straight business-owner coming into a gay community."
The former Spin space will be split almost evenly into Whiskey Trust and Chloe's, and there will be about 25 employees ( not including DJs and the security staff ), most of them members of the LGBT community. At least eight former Spin employees will call Whiskey Trust or Chloe's their new employer.
"Whiskey Trust is an old-school saloon, social club, pour house, with farm-to-table food and cocktails," said Zilberbrand, who noted that local forager Dave Odd will be bringing goods daily for that night's food and cocktails.
The chefs are Maxwell Robbins and Jacob Verstegen, both of whom have a lengthy, storied history of cooking in Chicago.
The upscale Whiskey Trust will offer 24 craft beers on tap, and none of the common beers such as Coors Light. There will be a daily, changing cocktail menu, depending on what's been foraged.
They will produce their own vodka, bottled in Ravenswood. And the whiskey will be aged for two years, produced off-sight.
"We have famous mixologists, award-winning chefs, in my opinion the best staff I have ever seen, along with world-famous interior designers. When you look at the whole package, there isn't anything that we're not capable of offering," Zilberbrand said.
Visitors can enjoy dinner for less than $20 per person.
Craft cocktails will cost $12-14 each, while craft beer will be $6-$8.
"We're not trying to compete with the Bud Light-[drinking] crowd," Zilberbrand said
Rhine added, "We feel like this neighborhood has just been accepting what's been offered to them."
Whiskey Trust will look like a pre-Victorian, distressed space that was discovered in a time capsule, Zilberbrand said. The front portion will be the tavern, while the back room will be for the live performance stage and an educational center for distilling, plus a private party room.
"We want to make an investment in this community, and that's how we've been approaching this project since day one," said Zilberbrand, whose first job ever was in Lakeview.
"I want to be able to provide the community with a more sophisticated approach. We are [located at] the gateway to the most famous gay community in the world, and we're very proud of that fact. And we really feel there is a need in this area for our product."
Chloe's is a throwback to nightclubs of the late 1980s and early 1990s, they said.
"It's a dance club, a place for people to have fun. We are stressing music, sound and lighting," said Zilberbrand, who noted that they gutted the whole sound system used by Spin and installed a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system.
Zilberbrand said it was a "substantial [financial] investment," which included bringing in a programmer from one country and an installer from another country. "It was absolutely a massive undertaking," he said.
Rhine added, "With nightlife now, so many people are going out now trying to impress everyone else. We're making the venue impress the customer, instead of the customers feeling they have to show up to a venue to impress everyone just to get inside. It's our job to impress the customers, so they want to come back."
The interior at Chloe's features the art work of noted gay, Los Angeles-based street artist Homo Riot, among others.
House music will be commonplace at Chloe's in an "upscale [club] without the pretentiousness," Rhine said.
And, yes, Chloe's is officially tagged as a gay nightclub.
Whiskey Tavern is not being labeled anything, or primarily geared for any demographic.
"I really think the gay community is going to be blown awaywith both places," Zilberbrand said.
Both Whiskey Trust and Chloe's will be very visible and active within the gay community, including sponsoring sports teams, as Spin did for years.
The marketing director for the two establishments is Chelsea Prosser, an out lesbian who played college basketball.
Zilberbrand said they will have full security on the whole block, and they have met with aldermen, area police, and others locally to discuss past crime/security issues around the old Spin..
"We've got an incredibly sophisticated and high-end security crew, all on the payroll. They work for no one but us, and they are going to make sure the community is safe from what's been going on, [particularly] late at night weekends," Zilberbrand said. "We are taking security very, very serious.
"Safety is my No. 1 concern, and we've gone to great lengths to make sure this area is safe."
Chloe's will regularly have a cover-charge, but also be the spot to see celebrities. And the owners say it will include A-list celebs. In fact, Zilberbrand said, "We are launching with one of the biggest acts in the world."
He would not name the opening-night act, or even offer a hint.
"I can say, you'll be blown away if you show up," he said.
Staff attire at Chloe's will be in tune with the theme of the club, yet done sexy with a strong focus on the gay community, Zilberbrand said.
At Whiskey Trust, staff might be dressed in shorts, jeans or khakis.
And the days of scantily-clad employees at the building, they are gone.
"Dave has been instrumental in helping us," Rhine said. "While Spin is no longer here, the essence of some of what Dave brought to the table is still very much a part of what we're doing."