In a year when Kylie Jenner threw Travis Scott a gas station-themed birthday party, it certainly seems on-trend to check out a speakeasy designed to look like a janitor’s closet. I never thought I would say that sentence, but here we are!
My boyfriend, Cam, and I were invited to check out Chicago’s newest speakeasy – aptly named, “Janitor’s Closet.” It is located in the bottom of the FieldHouse Jones Hotel in River North. Upon entering the hotel, you go to the basement and take the second door on the right. Sneaking past the “employees only” sign feels almost clandestine, and I checked several times to make sure we were in the right place.
The bar was built into a real janitor’s closet. The space is windowless, but instead of feeling claustrophobic, it feels cozy and more romantic than I would have thought possible for being surrounded by cleaning supplies. The bar only seats 15, so I heartily recommend making a reservation. A few seats are saved for walk-ins, but this is not the bar to gather a large group of friends. We went early on a Friday, and it was relatively empty, but it begins to fill up around 7 p.m. and stays full.
The bar sticks to its theme with mop heads, tools, and Pine Sol decorating the walls. The booths are made to look like old bus seats, and in the corner are retro Playboy magazines. We grabbed seats at the bar and looked over the menu, which was printed on t-shirt rags.
To start with, I got the French 75. This gin-based cocktail has notes of lemon and sugar. Usually lemon cocktails give me flashbacks to the days of drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade, but this mix balanced sour and sweet perfectly in an elevated fashion. Cam perused the beer menu, ultimately landing on Hopewell’s Ride or Die, a pale ale and local craft beer with hints of grapefruit and pine.
We talked with the “executive custodian” and drink master extraordinaire Jef Tate while we drank. If you’re unsure of what to try, Jef will happily lend his expertise and help you navigate the menu of intriguing cocktails to find one that suits your palette.
I asked for a recommendation and got the “brown line.” This is one of Janitor’s Closet’s more popular choices. It is a mix of tequila and mezcal with tamarind, pineapple, lemon, and lime juice. It has a smoky flavor with a pleasantly fruity aftertaste – almost reminiscent of grilled pineapple. A skewer lays across the top of the glass, holding a sole clove of black garlic. Jef instructs taking a sip or two of the drink, before tasting the garlic. Then take another sip. The garlic changes the smokey flavor of mezcal. Cam and I were both impressed with the craftsmanship of this drink, as well as fans of the flavor.
If you’re looking to impress your date with “being in the know” or catch up with a friend in a funky, fun atmosphere, definitely check out Janitor’s Closet.
Janitor’s Closet, 312 W Chestnut St, Chicago, (312) 291-9922