Dazzling Works & Displays of Lighting Make These Chicago Spots Must-Visits

By Stephen Ostrowski | December 19, 2018 | Food & Drink

See-and-be-seen spots around town are elevating interiors in high-wattage fashion.

Good Measure’s brilliant red back bar, created by Vero Design and Build. (Photo: Joshua Haines Photography)

Design has always informed the dining experience, but thanks to today’s snap-first, eat-later attitude, shareworthy interiors are demanding even greater attention. Lately, one trend shines brightest: the in-your-face embrace of bold, brilliant lighting, with pithy witticisms, eye-catching icons and other vivid visuals minting new Instagram destinations daily.

Neon, noticeably, illuminates the charge. “With today’s social media platforms, neon serves as a backdrop for photo opportunities, and, as it once was and is proving to remain, art itself,” notes Nicole Alexander, whose West Town-based firm Siren Betty Design has used neon at spots as diverse as retro punk-rock River North bar Good Measure and super-chic Logan Square java spot Passion House Coffee Roasters. That it works across a portfolio of decidedly different concepts underscores its versatility, explains Alexander: “It fits in so many different design spaces: industrial, modern, trendy, classic, depending on the fonts, colors, phrases or shapes chosen…. It is nostalgic and trendy at the same time.”

Hanging wall cubes backlit in cool purple are a soothing touch at Bar Biscay. (Photo: Galdones Photography)

Others, too, are equally smitten. At Wicker Park newcomer Neon Wilderness, Brad Bolt’s collab with Heisler Hospitality, it gets styled as a pair of electric antlers, which Bolt says “add to the outdoorsy feel of the space and are a fun alternative to taxidermy.”

Other media are commanding the spotlight, as well. LED lighting features prominently at Spanish brasserie Bar Biscay, whose amped-up interior effects—including hanging, backlit wall cubes from behind the bar and a procession of tube lights hovering from the ceiling— honor minimalist icons Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. “Everybody feels instantly more relaxed when they walk in and the lights are a little pinkish or purplish,” says co-owner Scott Worsham, who designed the West Town space. “People look better. They feel more relaxed. It does something to your cortex—you just kind of go, ‘Ahh.’”

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