Chopin theater interior
Seating inside Chopin Theatre Credit: Kerry Reid

Some of Chicago’s coziest theater lobbies are in Wicker Park. Upstairs at the Den, overstuffed leather chairs and an electric fireplace provide a great place to warm up on a cold night. But the Chopin Theatre’s basement lobby has always been my favorite weird place to hang out before a show, especially when the show feels a little dark or at least undefinable, like Kokandy’s Sweeney Todd or Alex Grelle and Jesse Morgan Young’s Floor Show.

Descend the narrow stairs, and step into what looks like a cross between a speakeasy and a 1970s rec room—a blend of faded elegance and kitsch that shouldn’t work. But it somehow sets the stage for whatever’s going to happen beyond the sliding metal doors where the real show will take place.

As far as what you’ll find there? Old tapestry sofas, mirrors, swag lamps. Shelves filled with books and tchotchkes. A plastic plant that provides a home for an enormous ceramic parrot. Walls covered in posters of past productions, as well as what looks like thrift-store art—perhaps donated after the demise of an ancient relative who spent decades toiling away on their canvases, never to find recognition in this life. (Yes, that appears to be a portrait of Leonard Cohen hanging next to what looks like a 19th-century French nude.) Chicago Shakespeare’s lobby may have the best view, but if you’d like to imagine yourself sipping absinthe with your own version of Auntie Mame, the Chopin basement is the place to be.

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