Nightlife impresario Billy Dec teams with design firm PROjECT. to give his new Underground Cocktail Club a romantic Roaring ’20s vibe.
It’s no small feat to design and open a nightspot in the midst of the pandemic—but if anyone has the vision to pull it off, it’s Billy Dec, who has been a partner in some of the city’s most iconic nightlife destinations of the past 20 years, from Circus and Le Passage to Rockit and Underground. Having to temporarily close Underground during the pandemic made Dec’s wheels start to turn. “Fifteen months of forced COVID closure allowed a lot of time for reflection,” notes Dec, “to fall deeper in love with my favorite 1920s jazz every morning, to craft cocktail experimentation at night, along with fascinating Roaring ’20s research in hopes of learning about how we all might recover.” Intrigued by that era’s dramatic changes—particularly the growth of women’s freedom of expression during that time—he called on all-female Chicago interior designers PROjECT. (projectinteriors.com) to bring a new concept within the Underground to life. Thus was born Underground Cocktail Club, a Dec solo project that evokes Jazz Age vibes via live entertainment and handcrafted cocktails, all in distinctly chic, feminine surroundings.
“I love how the space thoughtfully incorporates all of the elements that lend itself to the era,” says Lauren Warnock, design director at PROjECT., noting touches like the alleyway entrance’s Chicago glass block wall and flickering street lamps; and the interior’s crushed velvet upholstery, rose gold mirrors, striking light fixtures, feather plumes and large palms. Warnock’s favorite accent? The ceiling of suspended parasols, which cast a rose gold light on the space below. “It creates this dreamy glow that lends itself to the romanticism of jazz and the joie de vivre of the Roaring ’20s.” With an opening weekend featuring two nights of performances by the legendary Macy Gray (a longtime friend of Dec), Underground Cocktail Club is off to a rollicking start—and for Dec, it was meant to be. “There are times when you can put everything you think is right into a space—money, time, rarity, art, talent—and it’s just still missing something. Other times it all comes together incredibly, where all of those things, physical design and intangible magic are made, and exponentially beautify each other. That’s what happens at Underground Cocktail Club.”