If you’ve walked into Chicago’s Ada Street and heard “Heaven Can Wait” from Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell on more than one occasion, let general manager Michelle Szot assure you: It’s not a coincidence.
“Meatloaf is the kitchen favorite,” she says.
And she knows from experience. The kitchen consistently requests that the 70s rock album be included in the manager-on-duty’s nightly music queue, a handpicked selection of records from the restaurant’s nearly 1,000-vinyl-strong collection.
The library has been around since the venue opened its doors four years ago, and was one of the inaugural features of the space; however, it’s remained under-the-radar, with reviews focusing on the outstanding food and drink.
“The record collection was the first thing that went into the restaurant when the owners knew they would be opening a spot there,” says Szot. “We wanted to showcase vinyl because it reflects how long we all have been loving and collecting music for.”
Ada Street’s record collection welcomes diners. Photo by Nicole Schnitzler.
What began as the personal collection of owner Michael Kornick’s—”there was a lot of Grateful Dead,” Szot remembers—quickly grew to span eras and genres. The collection’s range is due to generous donations from regulars and additions from the team, including some jazz-focused albums Szot picked up just in time for Mardi Gras. Other recent contributions include a Dolly Parton album, two Billie Holidays, and a Nina Simone. Halloween is also a big purchasing opportunity; this year, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack made their way onto the Ada Street shelves.
When it’s not a holiday, Szot likes to kick off most evenings with oldies, then move into more modern melodies later in the night.
“The Beatles’ Rubber Soul is one of my favorite albums to start the night off to, and we also play a lot of The Pretenders and Big Country,” she says. In addition to providing big time variety to the mix, her team’s music choices have also shown Szot a thing or two about the folks she works alongside.
“My chef and sous chef are really into the oldies, so they root for The Angels’ My Boyfriend’s Back ,” she says. As for her servers? “They’re the really cool kids, so they want artists like The Faint and Hot Chip.”
When the staff is wrapping up for the evening they usually blast the latter options, along with the newly added 36 Chambers from Wu-Tang Clan.
“My kids love a Wu Tang Clan close,” says Szot.
While the team often weighs in on how the music queue plays out, Szot says it’s the restaurant’s patrons who really determine how the evening is scored.
“Whenever there’s a first time guest to the restaurant, the host shows them the records and lets them know that they’re totally welcome to choose what they want to hear and let us know,” she says. “It’s an interactive experience.”
Photo by Nicole Schnitzler.
The collection is definitely an attraction in more ways than one. “There is a couple that comes in often, and because they requested The Clash on their first date, we play a lot of that for them,” says Szot. There’s another couple who has been spinning Nirvana’s Unplugged because it was what they picked out the first time they ate at Ada together, proving that even the most unlikely record can read romantic when it becomes tradition.
It’s those types of memories that inspired the restaurant’s Total Run Time Happy Hour, a weekly happy hour that features half-priced plates and a cocktail inspired by whatever’s playing. For the last eight installments, Szot contacted regulars to find out about their go-to album at Ada, which they then highlighted during one such happy hour.
“Our regular Jennifer really loves Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life ; we have a best friend duo who picked the Dirty Dancing soundtrack,” Szot says.
Once they received the requests, the bar team got to work, creating song-inspired drams like “She’s Like the Wind,” a bubbly coupe of cava, passion fruit puree, and lime juice, and the “Lake of Fire,” a Nick and Nora glass of yellow chartreuse and Lillet with Peychaud’s bitters floating on top.
On top of the fun challenge it provides for herself and her team, Szot feels that the restaurant-guest collaboration is a surefire way to get guests excited about eating and drinking with Ada Street. “We have times when we’re a little slower, so the days these guests get featured, they’ll come in and fill the bar with their friends for that first hour,” she says. “It’s been really lovely.”
Ada Street , 1664 N. Ada St., Chicago, 773-697-7069
Listen to a playlist inspired by Ada Street’s favorites: