New owners took over North Beach's former digs in Downers Grove in September, transforming the beach-themed spot on Butterfield Road into a laid-back hangout called Gnarly J's. Here you'll find everyone from hipsters to bikers mingling while playing or watching games and enjoying the upgraded food and beer offerings.
Motif: The massive space has three bars spread across three rooms, each with its own theme. Up front is sporty, with three dart boards, three pool tables, boxing and golf video games, two indoor bags sets and four TVs and two projector screens showing games that you can watch from the red bar stools or couches arranged around the dance floor. There's also a photo booth so you can commemorate your fun night out. Walls are covered with beer posters and sports pennants. The owners' motorcycles are prominently displayed up front and the bar hosts bike nights on Tuesdays to raise money for charity, with local vendors selling jewelry and accessories.
Gnarly J's1211 Butterfield Road, Downers Grove, (630) 688-4595, gnarlyjs.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to midnight Sunday
The second area features two sand volleyball courts and has its own locker rooms and showers for players to rinse off after. The backroom is decorated with road signs and bike posters and features a set of neon-colored bowling lanes that date back to the 1960s, which the bar is working on updating. Games are free and they'll even provide shoes. The space is mostly used for private parties and as performance space for bands that are just getting started.
A smoker-friendly patio is set with umbrella-topped metal tables and has its own pool table. The bar also plans on adding two TVs outside.
Food: While North Beach's menu was limited to fried appetizers and frozen pizzas, Gnarly J's serves up twists on bar food classics like tender prime rib sliders on pretzel buns topped with fried onions and horseradish peppercorn sauce. The potato skins are another great pick. They come loaded with pulled pork, corn and black beans and topped with an onion ring. The crispy bacon can be ordered by the pound any time and proved so popular as a late-night snack that you can add a quarter-pound to any dish after 11 p.m.
Since the sand volleyball players tend to eat healthy, the menu also offers plenty of gluten-free options like hummus plates and lettuce wraps. But if you're not worried about your health at all you can try the Ultimate Gnarly Burger Challenge: four half-pound patties, eight slices of cheese, a pound of bacon and a pound of tater tots and fries covered with cheese sauce.
Liquid consumption: A Malibu-based cocktail dubbed Gnarly Drink is the signature booze here, but the bar also has a solid, regularly changing selection of craft beer and ciders available on draft or in cans. Options include Ska Brewing Co.'s Euphoria Pale Ale and Vander Mill Blue Gold cider. You won't find any bottles since the bar wants to protect barefoot volleyball players.
Crowd: While the bar is open for lunch and dinner, this is a late-night spot and the place can be nearly empty before 8 p.m., especially if the weather's nice or there's a festival nearby. Ages range from 25 to 65 and you'll sometimes find entire families sharing a birthday party or parents hanging out with their adult kids.
Service: Owner Jennifer Telitz said she wants visitors to feel like they're partying in her backyard, and she succeeds at making people feel right at home. Employees are laid-back but still attentive and knowledgeable when it comes to the menu.
Music: Fridays feature karaoke and DJs spinning throwback music that can get the whole bar singing along. A country duo performs on Wednesdays and the bar hosts bands on Saturdays.
Parking: There are plenty of spots in the large free lot Gnarly J's shares with Rita's American Roadhouse.
Overall: No matter what you're looking for in a bar, chances are you can find it at Gnarly J's.