Le Piano is a jazz bar and lounge like no other.
Walk into Le Piano off the Morse Red Line stop in Rogers Park and you might not immediately recognize it as a restaurant. It feels like home, like walking into a musician’s living room, but with an excellent menu and bar. The new Jazz bar and lounge is lovingly decorated with antique furniture, unique lighting, and soft lounge seating all surrounding a stunning 6’1″ Yamaha Conservatory Grand piano. The music is what takes the center stage at Le Piano with a different musician and brand new experiences every night.
While Le Piano opened just last year, it’s always been co-owner Chad Willetts’ dream to open a welcoming space for people to enjoy jazz music. Willetts spent 30 years performing in jazz bars and lounges all over Chicago including Gordon, The Drake Hotel, and the Knickerbocker before opening Le Piano. It was working at Gordon, owned by the famous restauranter Gordon Sinclair, that sparked Willett’s imagination for what would eventually become Le Piano.
Gordon had eclectic decor, exciting European cuisine, and some of Chicago’s best musicians. Despite frequent turn-over of chefs it was open for over two decades before closing in 1999. Sinclair had meticulous attention to detail when it came to his restaurant located in what is now River North. Every dish had to be perfect, the atmosphere sublime, the performers top notch. He even once booked an elephant to stand outside the restaurant to add to the atmosphere. Gordon had a knack of creating theatre in a restaurant, a knack Willetts paid attention to and would later inspire his own jazz bar concept. “I knew I was part of something incredible,” Willetts says of his 15 years of nightly performance at Gordon.
Le Piano borrows some of Gordon’s eclectic vibe in both its decor and spontaneous vibe. Patrons lounge on a chaise, dine on the top of a century-old wagon previously found hanging from a tree, and listen to music over drinks at the “Sinatra booth,” an antique circular booth with a trombone spotlight that hands from the ceiling. The custom mural of an art nouveau dancer is signed by every musician who performs at Le Piano. The love and attention that goes into every square inch of Le Piano is contagious; patrons can’t help but feel warm inside.
The musicians who play at Le Piano are some of the best in Chicago. While the schedule is roughly the same week to week, every night is a brand new experience of musical spontaneity. Secret Chicago readers can get an exclusive date night offer for live music and two cocktails Mon-Thurs.
- Mon the stage welcomes Bob Salone, a master pianist who has played all over Chicago and internationally in Europe and Mexico.
- Tues is cabaret night hosted by the award-winning duo Daryl Nitz and George Howe.
- Wed features special guest artists, often young musicians from neighboring universities.
- Thurs features Jeremy Kahn, a Chicago-born pianist who has played with stars like Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, and even Alvin and the Chipmunks!
- Fri & Sat are Willetts’ time to shine with a solo cocktail piano hour at 6:30 p.m. and later joined by Kevin Fort, John Sutton, and a rotating guest artist to form “Chad Willetts Trio.”
- Sun features Kimberly Gordon and Chris Foreman, two musicians who performed residencies at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge.
The menu at Le Piano is just as phenomenal as the music. Executive chef Jen Swanteck crafts delicious Midwestern-European small bites. Our favorite dish is the New Zealand Frenched Lamb Chop & Fingerling Potatoes with a mouthwatering pomegranate reduction. We’re also big fans of the Artichoke Fritters with Bérnaise. The drinks menu features a blend of classic and craft cocktails and a delicious wine list. The bar also just recently added its very own Le Piano signature vodka, a smooth and polished spirit from Cellovia, an award-winning local distillery.
A close observer may notice a peculiar item at the bottom of the menu. Le Piano’s “Happy Ending” is a unique experience where patrons lie down under the piano, heads resting on soft pillows. The pianist then performs a song as the music washes over you. It’s an emotional, immersive experience that can’t quite be described; the music reverberates in your chest, you close your eyes and totally drift away. “The whole idea is that the piano goes down on you!” Willetts says with a laugh.
Secret Chicago readers can get a special “Live Music & Cocktails for Two” date night drink offer for $20 Mon-Thurs. If that Happy Ending sounds enticing, add it onto your drink special for an additional $10.
Le Piano is a truly exceptional space in Chicago’s Jazz scene. Everything outside the jazz bar and lounge seem to melt away in this welcoming environment where spontaneity and a free spirit is eagerly encouraged. If you’re looking for somewhere astonishing to enjoy music, laugh, talk with your friends and enjoy a good cocktail, Le Piano is an excellent place to start.
Feature photo of Lina Koutakos singing at Le Piano’s one year anniversary by Phillip Tawanchaya.