HUMBOLDT PARK — A neighborhood bar from the owner of popular Ukrainian Village tavern EZ Inn is opening this weekend in Humboldt Park after four years of planning and construction.
The Hi-Lo, a cocktail and natural wine bar with a large outdoor patio, has taken over an old A-frame and part of a three-story apartment building at 1108-10 N. California Ave. The bar is set to open Friday or Saturday. A firm date will be posted to the bar’s Instagram soon.
In addition to cocktails and natural wine, The Hi-Lo will serve a small selection of beer and low-alcohol drinks like spritzes. It was important to owner Isaac Liberman that the bar has options for people who prefer to drink less. The bar is “more about the hangout and less about the hangover,” a news release said.
Liberman said he initially wanted to serve food — specifically, “finger food done well” — but the space would need to be double the size to accommodate food prep. Hi-Lo patrons will be able to bring in food from neighboring spots, he said.
The bar has two distinct spaces.
A 20-seat indoor bar with pressed tin ceilings and custom mosaic tile floors, among other details, occupies the ground floor of the 1800s, three-story apartment building.
Situated in back of the preserved A-frame is an 80-seat “garden patio” with three sections: a four-season room, a more traditional bar and a pergola lounge surrounded by 100-year-old trees.
The Hi-Lo is named for the buildings it occupies, and is a nod to the vibe of the space: “luxe and casual, sophisticated but comfortable, fresh but lived-in,” the news release said.
Both spaces were designed by Siren Betty Design, a West Town interior design firm that has designed restaurants in Chicago including Giant, Tortello and Untitled Supper Club.
The firm designed the patio to have the look and feel of beach lounges in Tulum and European bistros. Liberman said the goal was to create “a comfortable space for anyone and everyone.”
“Whether you want to drink very lightly, or not drink at all, or maybe even get a little tipsy — no judgment. It’s just a nice environment for everyone,” he said.
The Hi-Lo has been in the works since 2017. Liberman bought the two buildings with the goal of opening a neighborhood bar there, but he faced several delays to make the project a reality.
Liberman first had to get the liquor moratorium on the block lifted and figure out a way to blend the A-frame with the apartment building while keeping the apartments intact. He sought a zoning change to cover the scope of construction.
“I say it’s the best use [of the site], but I think anyone else would’ve looked at it and said this should be a three-story condo building. I said, ‘Heck no, this needs to be this,'” Liberman said.
The pandemic was an “enormous” hurdle, Liberman said. After a few years of planning, Liberman received conditional licensing approval from the city during the height of the public health crisis. He said he questioned whether or not to move forward given the devastated bar and restaurant industry, but he decided to press ahead and target 2021 for a grand opening.
Before The Hi-Lo, both California Avenue buildings sat vacant for several years. The ground floor of the apartment building once was home to Garcia’s Place, a bar run by a husband-and-wife team who served tacos and sausages.
Liberman said The Hi-Lo will bring people to the sites for the first time in at least a dozen years. The Humboldt Park bar will complement EZ Inn, which functions more like a classic Midwestern tavern just a few blocks east, he said.
“I didn’t want to do a repeat. I just love the idea of a space like this that’s very pretty, very comfortable and inviting, where you don’t have to get obliterated,” he said.
For hours of operation, check The Hi-Lo’s website. Staff will be checking proof of vaccination at the door, and masks are required indoors.
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