The East Room was one of the most influential bars in town, as the Logan Square concert hall brought communities together with live music and art. Weekend crowds crammed into the space for five years until the property closed in November 2019, just before COVID became a household term in the Americas.
“I have nothing but fond memories of East Room,” says Zack Eastman. “There was some really, really cool stuff that happened there. It was a big part of my life, I think it was for a lot of other people too.
The property’s intentions were to remodel the interiors and open up the rear space into a patio. Contrary to popular belief, the East Room is not named after Eastman, a minority investor in the original venue. He and his new ownership group took over the space in 2020 with plans for an all-day cafe and wine bar where patrons could sip coffee during the day and switch to natural wine and cocktails at night. Eastman called the redesign Easy Does It, hoping to show customers that they don’t have to be experts on varietals or regions to enjoy the drink.
“Meanwhile, we didn’t know how long it would last,” Eastman says, recalling how pandemic restrictions began in March 2020 in Illinois. Easy Does It would debut in August 2020, limited by the suspension of indoor dining and only offering terrace service with customers using QR codes – a strange business at the time – to place orders . Eastman, who also co-owns Dorian’s in Wicker Park, was just trying to keep his businesses afloat and his staff healthy. It’s not Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises or One Off Hospitality: “We’re scrappy, we made do with what we had and really pushed ourselves to do our best,” he says.
Twenty-seven months later, Easy Does It is ready to open its interiors to the general public. The grand opening will be Friday, March 11 at 2354 N. Milwaukee Avenue. And while the owner has additional plans for the space later this year, they’re eager to show off the transformed interiors for the first time: “It’s been an interesting ride and trip,” says Eastman.
The pandemic and struggling business meant the property had to wait to raise funds to complete the renovation. They added a few more windows to bring more light into the dark East Room space. Just Coast Design, who also worked on Dorian’s, have transformed the venue into one that will eventually house power outlets and have internet for customers to work away from home. The walls feature paintings by Rello Jones, co-founder of Fat Tiger Works, a streetwear boutique and frequent East Room collaborator. Eastman says Jones’ work is a nod to space’s illustrious past. The wallpaper is by local artist Lauren Burger.
Eastman, who was part of the same group that brought the saved by the bell pop-up in Chicago, started getting into wine a few years ago. He’s feeling a new energy in the Chicago wine scene with the likes of Slik Wines, Los Naturales and All Together Now tackling the stigma that wine is only for fancy meals or tasteless dinners. Eastman says Easy Does It is maintaining bar counter service because it wants to keep the venue casual. He says the easiest way to increase the accessibility of wine is to serve it with a Miller High Life or a cocktail.
“When our friends who used to go to East Room come to see what we’re doing, we hear words like ‘this space has really grown with us,'” Eastman says. “This stuff really gets to me.”
Easy Does It still has a DJ booth, and music remains an important part of the space, but it’s not the same as the late-night parties served by East Room. Eastman says there are about 100 bottles of wine available with prices ranging from $40 to “hundreds.” Wines by the glass will rotate monthly and with prices starting at $9. The menu is divided into whites, reds, oranges, rosés and sparkling wines with two selections each. Eastman says he organizes the selections. There are also cheese platters. The management encourages customers to order food from a local restaurant.
For now, Easy Does It won’t open until 5 p.m., but Eastman sees potential for daytime service with coffee from a local roaster; something to attract laptop workers. They will also be hosting events as on March 18 and 19 they will be hosting wine tastings as part of Third Coast Soif, a wine festival that has been dormant for two years due to the pandemic.
“Our core values are still there,” Eastman says. “It’s laid back – we want people to come in, enjoy each other’s company and enjoy a drink.”
It’s easy, 2354 N. Milwaukee Avenue, open 5 p.m. to midnight Wednesday and Sunday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.