The new North Bar at Sidetrack: colorful, dynamic and open for business

Tue. March 3, 2020 3:22 PM by Ross Forman

photo credit // jed dulanes
The 2 1/2-year renovation project of the former Cherry Lounge at Sidetrack was capped off with a grand opening party Thursday, Feb. 27, for what is now being called, at least temporarily, North Bar.

There were, naturally, drink specials – $5 Frozen Cocktails, $4 Tito's Vodka and $3 Miller Lite all day/night – to welcome the bar that some customers since its formal opening on Feb. 19 have dubbed Steel Bar or The Cage.

"Every (renovation) differs; each has its own vibe. The new North Bar now is now open, dynamic, with a feel of energy as opposed to intimacy," said architect Richard Gibbons, who spearheaded the renovation, marking his eighth such project at Sidetrack.

The former Cherry Lounge was a gathering place, converted 10-plus years ago from a former laundry facility. But, without a bar in it, it certainly was a less popular destination within Sidetrack. 

"It sort of was excluded from the energy of the rest of Sidetrack," Gibbons said. "When approached two years ago about doing something with the north side of the building, I measured it, did design drawings, reconfigured office space, moved a stairway and some storage space. Thus, we were able to carve out this large area that was really underutilized to create this whole new bar space, which looks quite spacious, because it is."

Offices were consolidated and ultimately North Bar now "creates better circulation so there are no dead ends. (Thus), you can go in one way and leave another way," Gibbons said.

"Circulation was the key to making this whole (new) bar work."

There now are two entries into North Bar.

"Another important part of this bar, and all of the other ones (at Sidetrack), is giving a view corridor, so you can see from one end of the bar to the other end of the bar, so it always pushes people to move on and see what the next room is like," Gibbons said.

"North Bar is not a Las Vegas bar; it's a neighborhood bar. So, (the renovation is) not too slick. There is a contrast – cool materials with warm materials. So that brings energy."

Planning for North Bar was about 18 months and construction was about a year.

The renovation of Cherry Lounge was done "to create a new room to better serve our guests and to create a whole new vibe and experience within the Sidetrack walls," said general manager Brad Balof. "Richard Gibbons did an amazing job of making the most of all of our spaces. I love it."

The North Bar now, ironically, has the same occupancy of the old Cherry Lounge. Gibbons and the Sidetrack team simply created more efficient office space, bigger storage space – and a gorgeous new bar within Sidetrack, with four serving stations, two of which have stools that can be removed to make them strictly a service bar area.

"When the lights went on and the construction barricades came down, I had chills; I was just astounded how well it turned out. It was very emotional seeing how beautiful it turned out," Gibbons said.

The dynamic truss work houses bottles of alcohol and the ever-changing colors of lights truly make the space warm, inviting and engaging.

Plus, the large window facing Halsted Street offers a perfect glimpse at the festive North Bar.

Cherry Bar has been slightly altered in the creation of North Bar, including access from the west side to North Bar. The steps on the west end of Cherry Bar also have been removed, replaced with a shallow ramp.

"Cherry Bar used to be a termination; now it's an elevated island that you pass on the way to somewhere else," Gibbons said.

So what's next on the renovation slate at Sidetrack, now in its 38th year?

"You never know with Sidetrack; they are a very creative group of people," Gibbons said. "The bar's theory is, their clients dictate what is needed and they listen to them. That leads to their decision-making."