“Destroy your reputation: jazz, booze, and butter.” That’s the slogan for pianist Chad Willet’s new establishment, Le Piano. Located in Rogers Park’s Glenwood Avenue Arts District, Le Piano is an instrumental listening room designed around a grand piano that will feature live intimate performances with some of Chicago’s finest pianists. The slogan, inspired by a Rumi quote, encourages people who enter the space to try something different by taking a break from digitally produced music and listening to live jazz.

Credit: Heather Miller

Le Piano succeeds the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre. “The iconic building we purchased has a long history of art and neighborhood culture that includes musical theatre, cabaret, folk, jazz, classical as well as spoken word, beat poetry and card playing,” says Willets. “We’re simply adding a layer to the tapestry that has been woven.”

Willets and his business partner Joe Quinlan crafted an intimate listening space where guests can enjoy a fancy cocktail or a small plate of food. On Friday and Saturday evenings, guests can watch a classic jazz quartet or quintet; featured guests joining every weekend.

What sets Le Piano apart from other jazz bars in Chicago, however, is the ambiance of the space. It’s on a stretch of Glenwood Avenue that’s right next to the el tracks and still paved in cobblestone, offering guests the experience of feeling like they’re sitting in a Parisian room while looking at Chicago through big glass windows. 

Credit: Heather Miller

Additionally, Willets and Quinlan made use of a lot of the interior’s quirks and simply added their own personality to it. “We didn’t know what we were going to do with it so we tried to take the idiosyncrasies of the room and try to work with it rather than destroy it,” says Quinlan. “We had the definition, we just needed to add to it.”

Some of the room’s eccentric traits include old support beams that can also double as swinging poles if any guest feels so inclined as to dance on them and an unresurfaced wall, part of which is now covered by a mural by artist Donna Arnold. Willets and Quinlan refused to resurface the rest of the wall because they believe the plaster added a rustic style to a modern space. They then covered a hole in the plaster with Willets’s mother’s trumpet. 

Credit: Heather Miller

Beneath the mural is a group of intimate round tables with a few lights hanging above to set a romantic mood. Old jazz records lie on top of the tables, what Quinlan hopes will serve as conversation starters. Towards the back of the room, there’s a booth with cove seating banquettes, a vintage lighting fixture and a glass window that allows visitors to see the permission wall in the alley where hired graffiti artists from different cultural backgrounds will paint murals. 

Credit: Heather Miller

Though their main focus was creating a balance of live music, drinks, and food, Willets and Quinlan have also designed a new place that offers space for artists and musicians in the city to gather and show their talent.

“We want to be a conduit for the arts. We want it to be cultural nutrition,” says Willets. “On our signage, it says ‘Entree Des Artistes’ and that means not only is it a home to musicians, but it’s a home to everyone who wants to come and talk about the creative process or art.”

Willets and Quinlan are aiming for a late October or early November opening. See lepianochicago.com for updates.