Nestled in the back of Chinatown’s oldest restaurants sits Nine Bar, a brand new lounge. Hidden speakeasy-style right behind Moon Palace Express (formerly known as Moon Palace Restaurant) is a new bar, the first of its kind to exist in the area. While there are plenty of karaoke options and mixed drinks available at restaurants, Nine Bar is the only place dedicated to serving up a one-of-a-kind bar atmosphere.
Helmed by Lily Wang and Joe Briglio, who are behind Estereo and Blind Barber respectively, the menu is a mix of Asian liquors (like baijiu, soju, and shochu) mixed with Asian ingredients such as barley tea, Calpico– a yogurt-based Japanese soft drink, Sichuan peppercorns, and more. The cocktails are a play on traditional American drinks like an Old Fashioned, or a highball but infused with a new flair.
Specialty cocktails litter the menu. Try the Chu-Hai: a shochu highball with baijiu (a colorless Chinese liquor), Midori (a sweet green muskmelon-flavored liqueur) and Calpico (a light Japanese carbonated drink), or opt for the Mahjong Money, which is made with del maguey vida (a Mezcal), suntory toki (a Japanese whiskey), matcha, honey, lemongrass, and ginger. Or, sip on the Good Fortune, an Old Fashioned inspired drink made with suntory haku (a white rice vodka), Medjool dates, rhine hall plum brandy, angostura bitters and infused with barley tea. Beer and Sake options are also available.
As for the name Nine Bar, it came about naturally as the first character in the Chinese word for “bar” which is pronounced the same as the number nine. It’s also a lucky number in Chinese numerology. Before the bar opened, the idea started out as a series of Lunar New Year parties Wang and Briglio would throw throughout February. They were always held at Moon Palace, which Wang’s parents, Jones and Jennifer Wang, have owned since 1995.
When the pandemic hit, they turned these gatherings into pop-ups around town, offering cocktails and bar snacks as a way to stay busy and create their own brand. As Wang’s parents stepped back from running Moon Palace and Wang took over, she found there was an attachment to the much-loved restaurant.
They cut down the menu and converted the front to a takeout bar, turning the traditional dining room into the new bar and lounge. Now, Nine Bar will offer their space for pop ups as a way to pay it forward.
The swanky setting was inspired by their travels through Tokyo and Hong Kong and the small alley bars they stopped in along the way. Other inspiration comes from the movie Blade Runner. All of this is easy to see in the exposed brick, dim lighting and neon touches that decorate the space.
Siren Betty Designs , who have designed a number of Chicago bars, helped bring everything together. The snack menu available at the bar is curated by celebrated chef Elvis Mom, and includes everything from vegan milk bread french toast, to fried cauliflower, pork katsu, and fries covered in mapo chili sauce.
Nine Bar is open from 5 PM to 1 AM on Wednesday and Sunday, and 5 PM to 2 AM Thursday through Saturday. With a full drink menu and plenty of fun to be had, DJs will provide music Thursday through Saturday, with Will Galvan on board as Music Director handling booking and holding a residency himself. Moon Palace Express will also be open 6 days a week 11:30 AM-9 PM (They will be closed on Tuesdays).
Address: Nine Bar, 216 W. Cermak Road, Chicago, IL 60616
[Featured photo via Lily Wang]