Argentinean eats meets Nuevo Latino beats at Lakeview's
Vida Lounge, which offers a surprisingly sassy and affordable taste of South America. Taking over the old rock club Thurston's (a meat processing plant in a previous life; if you look closely at the overhead beams you can see where they used to hang giant slabs of frozen meat), the space was completely gutted and professionally renovated into a two-story dinner and dancing combo. Speckled with fire silhouette murals, cushy seating booths and bright, earthy abstract paintings, it emits a toasty aura perfect for tapas and tango.
For a party of two or 20, Vida Lounge breeds conversation; from appetizers to entrees, sangria to martinis, you're met with comfortably paced service ideal for sharing tastes and stories. And you won't fight over the bill either. Empanadas are fixed at $2 a pop, hot/cold tapas such as the infamous tortilla de papa (potato omelet) never break the $7 mark and parrilladas (grilled specialties) average $15 and are big enough to feed two; try the salmon a la parilla.
On an ideal visit, you'll have hit the Lounge right at the brink between evening and night for a little calm before the DJ storm. And have your dancin' shoes ready, because the place gets packed with sexified club goers around midnight. Though Vida is best known for its salsa and merengue (and if you're that bad, classes on Thursday nights), it also mixes it up with hip-hop, international karaoke and live bands.
The Vida Lounge's best-kept secret by far is its specials. On Tuesdays, empanadas and drafts (including St. Pauli Girl) drop to $1. And on Wednesdays all those scrumptious tapas go for half price. In fact, every night it offers some loophole in the already overpriced fine dining scene of Chicago.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Gavin Paul