Neighborhood Spotlight: Gold Coast more than just the Viagra Triangle

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It will happen at least once in your lifetime: Whether you’re a bridesmaid in your sorority sister’s wedding or you’ve got that old college friend in town for business, you will have to do a night out on the Gold Coast. And while some might (rightfully) cringe at the thought of a night of beer pong at Shenannigans or dancing to Rascal Flatts remixes at the Hange Uppe, we’re here to tell you that you can survive the evening—and, with the right planning, even enjoy yourself.

Gold Coast nightlife is concentrated primarily in two areas: The infamous intersection of Rush and Division, and the appropriately nicknamed “Viagra Triangle” located two blocks south. The former comprises mostly testosterone-swelled young meatheads and obnoxious bachelorettes. The latter is populated by... well, basically the same people, but 20 years, a few Botox injections and at least one divorce later. Regardless of which area you choose, you can expect long lines, pricey drinks, and the smell of stale beer permeating the alleys.

Still with us? Good, because despite all of the negatives, there are a few gems that might be worth your while. At the very least, they will serve as a happy compromise between you and your more mainstream friends. Our picks:

The Underground Wonder Bar (10 E. Walton) is not just a neighborhood staple for live music, but a citywide one as well. Bar owner and house performer Lonnie Walker serves up live music 365 nights a year. On a typical night you can expect anything from Brazilian jazz to reggae to blues-based rock. Walker herself performs several nights a week, belting out powerful Janis Joplin-like vocals, accompanied by her Big Bad Ass Company Band. Expect to pay a cover ($8-9) after 9 p.m. on the weekends, but considering it’s one of the few places where you can still get a decent drink special, hear good music, and avoid the Rush and Division insanity, it’s a very small price to pay. Also, since nearby Jay’s Tavern closed several years ago, it’s one of the few 4 a.m. bars in the area.

The Zebra Lounge
(1220 N. State Parkway) offers a similar sort of divvy relief from the masses. Nestled away in a small apartment building, the Zebra has been serving drinks in the neighborhood for more than six decades. Outside of the piano player and his library of boozy piano standards, don’t expect much in the way of frills. It is what it is: a charming bar with an equally charming wait staff. Considering the shortage of those on the Near North Side, we’ll take it.

Butch McGuires (20 W. Divison) will likely fall into that “happy compromise” category of picks. It’s your standard big, loud Irish bar, but unlike its corporate neighbors Finn McCool’s and McFadden’s, Butch’s has been on the block for more than 40 years and at least brings a sense of history to the neighborhood. If your group is insistent on staying on Division, McGuires is probably your safest bet since you have decent odds of finding a table and the number of veils and douchebags is kept to a minimum, well, relative to its neighbors. Christmas decoration aficionados will likely dig its friendly winter displays. It’s definitely not Riptide Lounge, but then again, we said you’d have to compromise, didn’t we?

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