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March 9, 2004

21 and Over with Dorothea Hunter

Sonotheque (www.sonotheque.org, 1444 West Chicago Avenue)

If you like drinking and looking at naked women (but have issues with going to strip joints or being labeled "sleazy"), I have a place for you: Sonotheque. Sonotheque is a strange, alluring place—taking into consideration the two large TVs over the bar playing short videos with naked women occasionally making appearances.

Sonotheque is a futuristic-looking lounge. It's located way out west on Chicago Avenue, and it sticks out like a sore thumb from its surroundings. Given that there is no sign with its name, it's essential for something else to make it stand out—to proclaim that you have, in fact, found Sonotheque. The façade succeeds in this regard. Think of the jarring effect the new addition to Soldier Field has on the eye. That is how Sonotheque looks in the city block where it's located. It is a huge, slick, silver façade among the rough, brownish, mason-block façades stretching for miles on either side.

The inside is similarly conceived. It's a silver, rectangular room with a high, sloped ceiling. There's a bar on one of the long sides and a row of couches on the other. The two TV screens, playing excerpts of soft-core porn (along with other non-porn scenes) are placed above the center of the bar. The best way to describe the mood and atmosphere of the place is that it is very chill and sophisticated—and certainly comfortable enough if the TVs show half-naked women. I, along with most people I spoke with, loved the pervasive "coolness."

The problem with Sonotheque is that it is a lounge trying to be a club. To this end, the owners have techno music blasting from a world-class sound system at annoying volumes all the time. However, Sonotheque is the size of a world-class, um…closet. "The lounge/club thing does not work. You can't talk, and you can't dance—what can you do, then? Nothing," said my friend. Another friend noted that you have to be the same height as someone to hear them speak. (Luckily, I wore my three-inch heels Saturday night.) Also, Sonotheque does not escape my perennial complaint of many Chicago lounges: There are never enough places to sit. When I think of lounging, I think of sitting on a couch and sipping a cocktail, not standing on my stilettos and barely managing to squeeze my way to the bar.

So what is good here? Sonotheque is relatively cheap compared to its competitors. The apple martinis are an inexpensive favorite, and well drinks weigh in at $5 a pop. Cover is no more than $10 any given night, and the coat check is only $1. My friends suggested that it's a great place to go with a guy for the second or third date: Conversation's unnecessary, and it's swank without being too expensive.

Whatever you prefer, you should not go to Sonotheque expecting to do much like talk, lounge, or dance. I suggest starting the evening there by grabing a coveted spot on the couch, knocking back a few drinks, and then going to a more lively, exciting place.