Imagine walking into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, with its hip, chic surroundings and up-scale atmosphere; fresh flowers around, a classy feel and a well-dressed, well-ground professional staff.
The image is reality, right in the heart of Boystown … although no frequent-stay points or frequent-flyer miles are awarded.
John Dalton, who served as a manager at Roscoe's for the past five years, opened MiniBar at 3341 N. Halsted in mid-October. The grand opening featured lights, crystal, red-carpet and five mini-Cooper cars parked out front.
'We're just hoping to provide a great bar experience, for those who are used to coming out to this street and also for those who don't normally,' said Dalton, 28, a Houston native who's lived in Chicago for the past 10 years. 'We're looking to attract gay men who frequent the area, plus new people to the area, whether they are gay or straight.'
MiniBar offers a friendly, warm environment, ideal for dates or a simple drink before or after dinner. Customers can lounge around in a hotel-like environment until 2 a.m., with a capacity of 99 ( up from 36 when the property previously was known as Felt ) .
'Opening a business is a big risk, but I love the industry and had the opportunity, so I went for it,' said Dalton, who lives in the DePaul area. 'I don't shy away from things just because there's a risk. It was too good of an option to pass up.'
One of the biggest drawing points to MiniBar is that the entire 1,100 square-foot facility is smoke-free, becoming among the first bars in Chicago that is 100 percent smoke-free without serving food.
'There probably are more than 30 reasons ( to ban smoking ) , starting with, it provides a better environment and the neighbors thought it would be good idea,' he said.
Plus, cigarette smoke would have affected the infused liquors and the bevy of beautiful fresh-flower bouquets—two cornerstones of MiniBar.
Bukiety Flowers of Chicago, run by Tony Polega and Clem Buchamp ( partners in business and life ) , does the arrangements. Equinox does the decorations. Kafka does the wines and champagnes. Firefly will do a Monday night cocktail evening, with complimentary food. 'I really want to work with businesses in the area, especially gay businesses,' Dalton said.
MiniBar's infused liquors have been a hit so far, as fresh fruit, herbs or spices are placed in glass jars for a select period of time. The alcohol added, such as vodka, has a chemical reaction with the ingredients, such as the fruit's sugar, drawing out the flavors for a truly amazing taste.
Take, for instance, the bar's home-made Long Island Ice Teas, with top-shelf liquor mixed with oranges. MiniBar also has a wonderful drink mixing watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew with vodka.
MiniBar specializes in cocktails as opposed to martinis. Big hits include MiniBar's plum sour and watermelon lemonade.
MiniBar offers a wide variety of champagne ( $34 to $49.99 per bottle ) , wine ( $24-$32 ) and vodkas. There also are more than 20 different types of tequila, highlighted by De Los Altos, with its rich butterscotch flavor.
'Anything you'd find in a hotel's mini-bar, that's what we want to offer, but without the hotel pricing,' Dalton said.
Take, for instance, Don Julio 1942. The Four Seasons sells it for $25 for an ounce and a half; MiniBar is at $12.
No drink is over $8, other than select martinis and Don Julio 1942.
'Owning a bar versus managing is a lot different, at least so far. The responsibility is huge,' said Dalton, who cashed in his nine-to-five gig at Roscoe's for 17-hour days across the street. 'So far, it's been everything I hoped for, and more.'
Dalton will work behind the bar at least once a week, usually Saturday nights.