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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Neon Wilderness, New Spot From Bar DeVille Partner, Opens For Happy Hour Thursday

The bar near the Division Blue Line station pays homage to the neighborhood's Polish roots with its name, cocktails and laid-back vibe.

Neon Wilderness at 1270 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago
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WICKER PARK — A bar named Neon Wilderness with a hard-to-miss bright green facade will open Thursday along Milwaukee Avenue.

Owner Brad Bolt was the managing partner and head bartender at Bar DeVille, a popular Ukrainian Village neighborhood spot from Heisler Hospitality that closed last July and was replaced by Damen Tavern.

Bar DeVille is in the process of reopening somewhere in West Town, but details are not finalized yet, Bolt told Block Club.

“The [Neon Wilderness] space and opportunity came first,” he said.

Located in the former Esso nightclub at 1270 N. Milwaukee Ave.,  Neon Wilderness’ exterior is painted two shades of green, helping it to stand out from neighbors Italian restaurant Tocco and Shuga Records. 

A peek inside the bar early Tuesday revealed green and black checkered tile flooring, brown bar stools and twinkling bare lightbulbs dangling from an exposed wood beam ceiling. A metallic deer skull sculpture with neon antlers was affixed to the wall near the front of the bar.

Starting at 5 p.m. Thursday, Neon Wilderness will be open 5 p.m. – 2 a.m. daily and 3 a.m. on Saturdays.

Bolt said he’s aiming to court the commuter crowd from the nearby CTA Blue Line Division “L” stop with a weekday 5-7 p.m. happy hour. The stretch of street is also often packed with cyclists returning from work Downtown.

Happy Hour specials include Revolution Cross of Gold and a shot for $5, $7 craft cocktails and 20 percent off wine bottles.

The Neon Wilderness menu features eight cocktails, 15 beers by the can, wines (2 red, 1 rose, 2 white) by the glass, and seven types of champagne by the bottle.

Credit: Provided
Cocktail and beer menu.
Credit: Provided
Wine and champagne menu.

Neon Wilderness offers seating for around 45 people, with 16 stools at the bar and more seats along a 35-foot-long banquette or bench. 

The bar is just north of the Polish Triangle at the Milwaukee, Ashland and Division, which features a fountain dedicated to famed Wicker Park writer Nelson Algren surrounded by an inscribed quote, “For the masses who do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart.” The quote is from Algen’s famed essay “Chicago: City on the Make.” 

Neon Wilderness draws its name from the title of Algren’s first short story collection published in 1947. Bolt said he’s read some of Algren’s works but is not necessarily “a fan boy” —  he just wanted to honor the neighborhood’s past.

Since nearby Division Street was long referred to as “Polish Broadway” due to its influx of Polish residents and Polish-owned shops, one of Neon Wilderness’s cocktails will pay homage to that history. The Polish Broadway is a take on the Old-Fashioned, but made with Zubrowka vodka instead of bourbon. 

Matt Eisler and Kevin Heisner, partners at Heisler Hospitality are partners in Neon Wilderness but Bolt is the majority owner. Neon Wilderness is not one of Heisler Hospitality’s 11 neighborhood bars, which include Division Street’s Pub Royale and Queen Mary and Milwaukee-Avenue’s The Revel Room, which replaced Crown Liquors back in 2013.

 The Tribune first reported on Neon Wilderness in June.

Credit: Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago
Future home of Neon Wilderness.