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3320 N. Halsted St.
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat. 2 p.m.-3 a.m.; Sun: 1 p.m.-2 a.m.
Stepping into Boystown bar Scarlet
is like stepping into an era of speakeasies, drag galas and jazz halls from 1920s gay Chicago. At Halsted Street and Buckingham a microcosm of Chicago history can be found, straight down to the rebuilding after its own great fire last year.
Scarlet owner Paul Cannella, who ironically named his bar after a symbol of flame, worked tirelessly to open the historical tribute bar after a fire last February that left only the skeletal frame of the brick building standing.
“Several hundred thousand gallons of water was pumped into the fire above the bar,” Cannella said of the disaster that nearly terminated his bar completely. “Combined with one of the coldest days of the year, everything got wet, froze, thawed–it was a mess.”
But in the past year and a half a new Scarlet has risen from the ashes, Cannella and his team have been able to make some major improvements, such as the expanded bars, bathrooms and off-scene areas and addition of the VIP section and stage at the front of the bar. They were even able to salvage the slightly rusted stained glass from behind the two bars as a tribute to what Cannella refers to as “Scarlet 1.0.”
BEST GAY BAR: Recovery has always been the theme of Cannella’s bar, which was named “Best Gay Bar” by Chicago Magazine this month. The custom-made disco ball, light fixtures, furniture and mirrors collected from old Chicago buildings pay tribute to the city’s rich history while staying eco-conscious, Cannella said.
A TRIBUTE TO VICE: The themed “First Ward Ball” nights evoke an era of vice and corruption key to Windy City history. Every Friday, parties are designed to emulate 1907 first Ward Alderman “Bathhouse” John Coughlin’s over-the-top revelries of madams and gangsters.
FUTURE PLANS: Starting Monday, a “Zeitgeist” night of free rotating live shows will make use of the bar’s front stage area. The staff helped come up with the night celebrating the current “cultural climate of this era,” Cannella said, where one night could bring in combinations of music, film shorts, fashion shows, theater acts and dance performances.
“It’s an opportunity to do something live, something that’s different that’s not really being offered anywhere else here,” he said. “You’ll never know what it’ll be that week.”
SCARLET FUN HOUSE: And come Market Days, Aug. 7 and 8, Scarlet will be in full force with this year’s circus and fun house themes covered.
“We’re going to leverage off our strengths for the Scarlet Fun House,” Cannella said. “Our staff, who is often referred to as the friendliest in the area, will get dressed all up in costumes, so [expect] a bearded lady, Siamese twins … it’s going to be a lot of fun.”