photo: Clifton Henri
; Swirl bartenders Tim Ellis and Heidi Norton
If bottle service and table packages have proven anything, it's that anyone with the dough can buy his or her way onto a VIP list. But there is a deeper circle that no amount of money can penetrate—a shadowy contingent of Chicagoans that don't need laminates, plus ones or reserved seating to gain access.
Who are these phantom club kids? Look not to the trust-funded society gals skipping past the velvet ropes: Look to the burly dude letting them through. Inside the club, you'll find the makings of nightlife Illuminati; they're shaking martinis, balancing cocktail trays, chopping onions and adjusting the EQ. These are the real VIPs—the people of the service industry. And they deserve a break.
Green Dolphin Street
To many loyal revelers, Monday nights are synonymous with the trannie-packed dance floor of the Boom Boom Room. Chicago's longest-running dance night takes over Green Dolphin Street once a week with plenty of house beats, but not so many clothes. The prescient promoters behind the BBR recently decided to transition one Monday a month into a hospitality appreciation night. Stoli hosts the bar from 10 to 11:30 p.m.; industry employees must RSVP, and drink specials abound throughout the rest of the night. Resident DJs Diz and Michael Serafini are joined by guest DJs to keep the crowd, which usually tops 1,000, writhing until four in the morning.
Since Monday is the one night that most service industry employees have off, convincing them to spend it at a club can be a hard sell. Buzz has been hosting its Industry Night for eight years, a reign that has made it the default destination for many River North bar staffs. Four DJs pump out Latin, Techno and even a little hip-hop. The dance floor can get pretty crowded when the local waitresses, bartenders and security personnel roll in. Buzz slices the cover in half for workers and doles out $5 drink specials all night. Industry prices are matched with the heavy-handed camaraderie you'd expect from a fellow barkeep.
Swirl Wine Bar
Night after night of peddling over-priced bottles to the beautiful people can be exhausting, but it's nothing that a good glass of vino can't quell. This is where Swirl Wine Bar comes in: Instead of pounding tequila shots on your night off, why not settle into the unassuming, effortlessly chic environs of this River North wine bar? The first Wednesday night of every month is RAIN (Restaurant Appreciation Industry Night) at Swirl. There's even a cheeky manifesto: "When it RAINs, we pour." Twenty-five stellar wines are available by the glass, quartino or bottle, along with food built for pairing. Share an antipasto or cheese plate, or opt for a gourmet pizza crowned with delicacies like caramelized pears, pesto and goat cheese. Don't be shy; industry employees get everything for half off.
McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon
At the end of the night, after the dredges of the drunken masses have left, waitstaffs around the globe gather around their respective bars to begin the time-tested ritual of shift-off. This tradition involves comping a couple drinks to employees after closing time, though it's been known to morph into a lengthy, drunken precursor to many a raging hangover. Fortunately for Chicagoans, some bars stay open late, giving folks a reason to break from tradition and leave work on time. Near North Siders head to McFadden's on Sundays for their post-work drinks. The Gold Coast tavern offers half-priced appetizers and drink specials, and the 4 a.m. closing time will prompt you to head home slightly before daybreak. The hospitality sect's beverage of choice, the Jager Bomb, is available for only $3.
VIP's: A Gentleman's Club
Heading to the strip club after closing time is a guaranteed way to have a hilarious time with coworkers. For their nudey-bar fix, the staff that mans the nightlife-saturated areas of the Gold Coast and Old Town heads to VIP's on Sunday nights. Open until 4 a.m., the club is the only business in Chicago that offers a full bar and topless dancers. Of course, "topless" is a bit of a misnomer, as Cook County's stringent regulations of the adult entertainment industry ensure that you'll see nary a nipple 'round these parts. To accompany the array of pasties, deep discounts are offered on Stoli cocktails and those tasty Jager Bombs.