Everyone grab a Chicago Social! There’s a 3 page, 9 photo huge spread on Rockit Ranch Productions’ 10 Year Anniversary – with really fun quotes and comment by the partners and friends! Scroll through the pictures for some of the great shots featuring the Stanley Cup, Barbara Streisand, David Beckham and more! – KatieRose Cronin
“The stretch of River North that fans out from Hubbard Street and runs west from the Mag Mile to the river is a far more happening place than it was in 2002. Back then, sparsely used parking lots and adult video stores abounded. True, there were some standout restaurants—Brasserie Jo and Rick Bayless’ mini-empire on Clark Street—but a lot of vacant buildings, too.
It could be argued that what set the neighborhood on its breakneck path toward being the dining and nightlife juggernaut it is today was the 2004 opening of Rockit Bar & Grill, the jacket-free place for a power-lunch/celebrity hangout/rock bar/Sunday brunch standby that was the brainchild of Rockit Ranch Productions. This month, the company celebrates its 10th anniversary as it prepares to launch its fifth establishment, a barbecue restaurant with Asian influences called Dragon Ranch that’s slated to open at 441 N. Clark St. later this summer.
Rockit Ranch Productions now employs more than 500 people, but in 2002, when the company was brought in as partners by Le Colonial’s Joe King to make a hit out of the velvety Gold Coast nightclub Le Passage, there was only the now-familiar trio: Billy Dec, the baseball cap-wearing celeb wrangler and ubiquitous face of the operation; Brad Young, the sharp-eyed money guy who quit his dad’s investment banking firm to found Rockit; and Arturo Gomez, the youngest of the three and a smooth, suited-up nightlife natural who veered into the business on his way to dental school and never looked back.
With little more than a printer and a bank account to make things legit, the Rockit team transformed (the now closed) Le Passage from a nonstarter of a spot into the place to be by nixing the froufrou French house music in favor of mainstream music and hip-hop, switching out the staff, changing marketing tactics and finding a sweet spot between glam factor and hometown hospitality. “Not all of the owners were from around here, and they didn’t know what Chicago wanted,” says Young. “We did.” King agrees: “They were the missing link we needed, and our sales improved significantly.” Lines became a given outside Le Passage’s red-carpeted alleyway, and the Rockit guys began scouting a location for their own venture.
Young took Dec to see an old lamp factory on Hubbard Street. The place was gutted, the windows were kicked out, and there were male prostitutes lingering on the sidewalk. “When you’re used to being anchored in the Gold Coast’s plushest little room, that space seemed like a huge risk,” says Dec. “We’d take our investors to see it, and they’d keep going outside to check on their cars.”
It wasn’t like the Rockit guys didn’t know what they were doing, though. Dec was a nightlife veteran, having started as a bouncer while in law school at Kent. He later opened several nightspots, including the 17,000-square-foot Circus on Weed Street, a project Young was involved with (Gomez also came into the picture about that time, after working as a bartender in Lincoln Park and then approaching Dec for a job). They had all witnessed the inner workings of the industry, and together they realized that the clientele who’d shocked them by lining up 4,000 deep on Circus’ opening night was getting older. They were going to need a more sophisticated place to play.
Rockit Bar & Grill, with its industrial-chic design by a then almost-famous Nate Berkus, was conceived as a hybrid, “a one-stop shop,” Gomez says. Patrons could have dinner downstairs (better-than-basic comfort food like burgers with truffle fries and giant salads became Rockit’s signature), and then simply walk upstairs to play pool, drink and party in the bar. (Rockit’s Wrigleyville outpost recently evolved into “Rockit Burger Bar” to reflect the neighborhood’s ordering patterns.)
When it became clear that the concept was working, the trio decided to keep the train moving by quickly opening up spot No. 2, The Underground, a few blocks away. Since staying out until Rockit’s weekend closing times of two or three in the morning wasn’t late enough for some revelers, it made sense to snap up a nearby space with a rare 4am license that happened to be for sale at the time. Bunker-themed The Underground—inspired by a club Young had visited in Jerusalem—was an immediate hit, bolstered in part by Dec’s knack for bringing seemingly every celebrity who happened to be in Chicago through the club’s inconspicuous metal doors. A recent example: the night Jamie Foxx grabbed the mic at The Underground and belted out a tune while the cast of Glee danced around him.
Next came Sunda, the Illinois Street restaurant that marked Rockit’s leap into fine-ish dining. The exotic-looking room and the sushi-leaning menu both aim high, but with the sound system turned up and a glossy crowd that likes to hit the bar for pre-dinner cocktails, the vibe is more party than proper—unless you’re Barbra Streisand and you require a bit of privacy, in which case you’ll enjoy a quiet meal upstairs, as the singer/actress and her husband James Brolin did last summer….
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Tags: arturo gomez, Barbara Streisand, billy dec, brad young, chicago, circus, David Beckham, Doug Wexler, Dragon Ranch, glee, Gold Coast, James Brolin, jamie foxx, Jess De Guzman, Joe King, le passage, Nate Berkus, river north, rockit bar & grill, Rockit Burger Bar, rockit ranch productions, sunda, the underground, wrigleyville
There is a new company that’s making a splash even before their June 14th launch; ShopAround Chicago, the brainchild of CEO and Style Maven Sean Krista. Alongside partner Shontelle Watson, they have mapped out a trifecta of chic walking tours throughout the neighborhoods of Wicker Park, Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast.
ShopAround Chicago saw the need to highlight and celebrate local boutiques and make Chicago fashion recognizable to locals and tourists. You can go on a “style exploration” at the ShopAround Chicago Launch Party & Shop Party on Thursday June 14th from 6-9 pm on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. The event is free and you’ll be whisked away by Krista and a knowledgeable Style Guide to find hidden gems beyond compare! Guests will receive bags filled with specialty items from local shops and a 10% discount on items purchased during the event. Boutique spa Buff Beauty will host a beautiful brow bar & drinks will be provided by Frankie Scaloppine restaurant.
ShopAround Chicago’s mission is to ensure that people “fall in love with the story behind each shop, learn more about the products they carry and leave with bags full of spoils and smile on their faces”. With the backdrop of our city’s energy along with the ladies haute know-how, that won’t be very hard to do.
If you’re planning on attending email firstname.lastname@example.org
So remember to “shop Local, shop Smart and always ShopAround!
Tags: 900 shops, Bar, Boutique spa Buff Beauty, ceo, chicago, cocktails, fashion, food, Frankie Scaloppine, Gold Coast, launch, lincoln park, magnificent mile, Michigan, open, sean krista, Shontelle Watson, shoparound, style, style maven, wicker park
This full page picture of Rockit Ranch Partners, Billy Dec, Brad Young and Arturo Gomez, is part of a huge feature this Summer in Michigan Avenue Magazine celebrating their 10 Year Anniversary and how they led the creation of the coolest and most booming entertainment district in Chicago, which essentially means, in the world.
“When Billy Dec decided to open Rockit Ranch Productions 10 years ago with his partners Brad Young and Arturo Gomez, they tried to find something “as close as you could get to the Gold Coast without having to pay expensive rent,” Dec says. But they also wanted something distinctly different from the “sleek Euro nightclub feel” of the Viagra Triangle. While River North’s proximity to the Gold Coast, the Loop, public transit, and expressways made the area attractive, it was the sheer square footage available that made River North ideal for creative types who were trying to find unique spaces with high ceilings and lots of light. The trio found the space they were looking for in a former lamp factory on Hubbard Street, with a 75–foot skylight and unobstructed views. “Architecturally, it doesn’t get better than this,” says Dec, about the building that houses Rockit Bar & Grill.
While other restaurants and nightclubs have populated the district over the years, they were mostly one-offs. It wasn’t until Rockit Bar & Grill opened on Hubbard Street in 2004 that other restaurants took advantage of the attention it created and opened nearby, creating what today is a two-block strip of wall-to-wall restaurants. “We had trouble getting a cab those first two years,” says Dec, but the team hosted celebrity parties with partners like GQ magazine and the Black Eyed Peas “before they were big” to attract people. “And once people came out,” Dec says, “they realized the cab fare was the same as to the Gold Coast or somewhere else.”
Then Rockit focused its attention one block north to Illinois Street—opening The Underground at 56 West Illinois in 2006 (voted No. 1 nightclub in the country by Nightclub & Bar magazine in 2008), and Sunda at 110 West Illinois three years later. This ushered in the development of what is now another thriving restaurant strip on Illinois.
What they’ve done: Anchored River North as an entertainment district with the development of their trifecta of hot spots – Rockit Bar & Grill, Sunda New Asian, and The Underground nightclub – with a fourth River North venue opening this summer, Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ at 441 N Clark St., which will offer American-Asian barbecue alongside custom-distilled spirits.
Rule Breakers: Ten years ago, “There wasn’t anyone doing Kobe burgers or truffle fries,” says Dec of the vision behind Rockit Bar & Grill. “And no one was playing rock unless you were a college or sports bar. We saw the void in the middle-the highest quality of food presentation with a comfortable, cool atmosphere.” Says Young: “There really wasn’t anything like it in the city at the time, so we had a solid three years before the copycats started coming out of the woodwork. Some have come and gone, but we have stuck to our own game.”
A Perfect 10: As they celebrate their 10th Anniversary this summer, the trio is looking toward the future. “We are just really excited to launch our second decade,” says Gomez. “There are companies that have had 20, even 40 years in the industry to build, so after seeing how much we have learned, we just feel ready to blaze new trails.” Just don’t expect an anniversary bash: “When it comes to our own personal celebration, we’ll probably get the most joy out of just thanking our teams, our families for letting us be workaholics, and one another for total commitment to helping this dream come true,” says Dec.”
Tags: arturo gomez, billy dec, black eyed peas, brad young, chicago, Gold Coast, gq magazine, Michigan Avenue Magazine, Nightclub & Bar Magazine, river north, rockit bar & grill, rockit ranch productions, sunda, the underground, Viagra Triangle