LINCOLN PARK — The site of music venue Tonic Room, legend has it, housed an occultist temple, a speakeasy and a brothel since it was built in 1894.
And when the venue reopens Wednesday under the new name Golden Dagger, the storefront at 2447 N. Halsted St. can add something new to its resume: a coffeehouse.
Golden Dagger is a rebranding of Tonic Room that comes with a list of enhancements to the live performance venue, including a new coffee bar, merchandise section and improved stage for when live music can safely return.
Like most music venues in Chicago, the space has been closed since March of last year when the coronavirus pandemic sparked the beginning of Illinois’ stay-at-home orders.
“It triggered an idea that now is the time for me to make the changes I always wanted to make in this space, but never had the time or money to make things happen,” said owner Donnie Biggins, who bought Tonic Room in April 2016.
Biggins started by reconfiguring the bar’s L-shaped stage into a square platform and relocating its front door so guests no longer had to walk directly in front of bands while entering the bar. He also added a wooden structure that frames the stage.
The bar also has new bifold windows spanning the storefront that open to provide more indoor ventilation. Biggins said he was inspired by the front-window stages in New Orleans.
Outside, Biggins converted a paved corridor next to the building into a space for outdoor seating. The patio can hold up to 30 people, he said.
The bar and coffee house will offer a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, including drip and cold brew coffee, which is new to the establishment. It also has kombucha on tap, Biggins said.
“There’s a huge demographic of people that don’t drink alcohol and they still want to go out and socialize with their friends. And cold brew and coffee is a great option for that,” Biggins said.
The coffee beans are provided by Skylight Coffee, a local roastery founded by Tonic Room’s sound engineer and production manager that Biggins started selling to his neighbors while the venue was closed.
What makes their coffee special, Biggins said, is that its beans are roasted over a hickory wood fire on a 15 kg antique Italian roaster built in the 1920s.
“When I first tried it, it was the best coffee I’d ever drank,” Biggins said. “Now it’s the only coffee my wife and I will drink.”
The venue’s new name, Golden Dagger, pays homage to the building’s history by combining “the Golden Dawn” — a secret society that met in the building’s basement in the early 1900s — with “dagger” in a nod to the large knife found within the building’s walls by the previous owner during a remodel of the basement, Biggins said.
The dagger, which has a skull-shaped grip, is encased in a glass box that Biggins hopes to put on display in the reopened establishment, he said.
“The dagger has become a relic to this property that people come by and anyone who follows ghost stories will want to see the dagger,” Biggins said. “So the name is a mashup of those two historical aspects of this space.”
The Golden Dagger opens at 7 a.m. Wednesday for coffee service. Alcoholic beverages can begin being served at noon.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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