January 28, 2005

Get a Life 1-28-05

Let me set the scene. Rolling tumbleweed. Clouds of dust. The soundtrack to Rawhide. This is exactly what came to mind when I walked into the Palace Restaurant and Saloon on "Whiskey Row" in Prescott, Arizona last July. Although my saloon stereotypes were certainly exaggerated, the story behind the place—which used to be a haunt of Doc Holiday and the Earp brothers—supported the mood I had created in my mind.

Apparently, in 1900, a drunken miner knocked over a kerosene lantern, starting a fire that burned down 11 Prescott blocks. What did the Palace patrons do in the midst of the flames? Why, they dragged the Palace's now infamous bar out onto the street and continued their revelries undeterred.

While a single lamp threatened the existence of this Wild West watering hole, lamps paved the way for one of the newer faces on the Chicago bar scene. Nestled in a warehouse built as a lamp factory in the early 1900s, Rockit Bar and Grill offers a place for Chicago cowboys and cowgirls to eat, drink, and be merry.

The bar has maintained the feel of the original warehouse. Exposed beams jut across lofted ceilings, and the dim glow of gas lamps drift over refinished wood tables. This natural-looking atmosphere has been spiced up with cosmopolitan flair, though: It has eight plasma TVs that line the walls of the upstairs lounge, the custom-made pool tables, and the ornate antler chandeliers.

Just when you thought you had a handle on the country-mouse-meets-city-mouse vibe, the team behind Rockit throws a little Modest Mouse into the mix. As the name suggests, Rockit takes its music seriously. Classics from U2 and Ozzie Osbourne (and newer favorites, from the White Stripes to OutKast) float through the space. Here, music is a mainstay—a point driven home by the food and drink menus that are bound in old album covers.

The offerings inside these menus mimic the fusion of the environment. Although selections are casual, they are typically less simple than meets the eye. Veal is supplemented for steak in the basic steak salad and topped with Roquefort and crispy onions. The renowned Kobe burger is served with truffle fries. Most of the oversized salads and sandwiches weigh in at about $10, as do the specialty drinks that have been aptly named "Rocktails" and "Rockitinis."

One such drink is the bar's version of the mimosa: one can of Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs (the new sparkling wine from the Coppola vineyard) mixed with passion fruit or mango purée. Pair this brunch favorite with Rockit's two-egg breakfast or foie-nut-butter-and-jelly French toast (which is made by layering raspberry preserves, crème brûlée French toast, foie gras, homemade nut butter, and powdered sugar). It's the perfect way to gear up for a Sunday afternoon.

The second floor lounge is hopping on the weekends, with patrons milling around the central bar, sipping one of the six beers on tap (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Goose Island, to name a few), or munching on a snack from the late night menu, served until 1:30 a.m. Although this Hubbard Street hotspot has a relaxed aura, the clientele is still chic; the glossier bodies adorning the barstools offset the bar's subtle chocolate-and-cream motif. A DJ spins those rock-and-roll hits until the wee hours on Friday and Saturday nights, and although she might take requests, I'd avoid asking for "Light My Fire"—unless I was prepared to do some heavy lifting.