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As seen on: HGTV’s Front Door

Does the Seductive ‘Underground’ Define Chicago’s Club Scene?

By Francesca Robin | Published: 12/4/2013

According to founder William “Billy” Dec, the Underground is on schedule to “elevate the level of entertainment in Chicago to surpass every other city around the world.” Yes, the world.

rockit ranch

Rockit Ranch Productions partners (L-R) Billy Dec, Arturo Gomez and Brad Young. The Underground club originally opened in December of 2006 and had a massive upgrade and remodel in 2013.

Beneath the dark red brick facade of the 13-story Boyce Building on Dearborn and Illinois Streets is a basement compound where Jamie Foxx got busy on a mic for an impromptu set. Celebrities like this joint.

This section of River North, once a dodgy stretch that looked like a bad ‘70s habit, is now all a-glitter with the dining-club concept, a formula epitomized by the Underground, an event space and velvet-rope bunker-themed nightclub where you can see knotty lines of the coiffed and toned waiting to step below and shake to mash-ups of house, hip-hop, or tech while drinking $15 shots of Patron, even as the almighty 4:00 a.m. witching hour approaches.

It’s one of several Rockit Ranch Productions’ ventures from the team of Billy Dec, Brad Young and Arturo Gomez that include Rockit Bar & Grill, Rockit Burgers and the sublime Asian flair of Sunda restaurant up the street. Pegged as Chicago’s hottest nightclub by Entertainment Weekly (one of the “sexiest places in the world,” oozed Cosmopolitan magazine), the 8,000-square-foot hi-tech space rocks the sublevel of a 1912 high-rise built by architectural maestro Daniel Burnham of the glorious Rookery Building fame. It’s a sly irony that the Boy Scouts of America were born here.


Crowds at one of two bars at the Underground. Inside the lounge, crystal tubing floats above the space. The 3-D ceiling display is custom made and there’s a smart Six Robe Moving Head light fixture reacting to the music and movement in the club.

This past August, they rebooted the operation after an extensive renovation hiatus that whipped up “an outcry from the public,” the irrepressible Billy Dec, who covers an entertainment beat on ABC’sWindy City Live, told FrontDoor. “We took something away that was integral to their being, their personality and DNA. It was part of tens of thousands of people’s lives, in a very serious way,” he said. Four days of music, food and A-listers during the Lollapalooza reopening seemed to settle a question: Truly, the Underground could be defining the Chicago club scene.

Few clubs in the country stock bottles of Screaming Eagle ($5,000) or have a dessert bar menu with chocolate chunk ice cream sandwiches dreamed up by Chef Amanda Downing. But beyond the cushy sofas, foot-locker cocktail height tables, a full Madrix controlled LED pixel lit ceiling “cloud,” 40-foot long high-definition LED video wall, and the illuminated world map that everyone talks about, consider two other magnets that draw in the crowds:


Clubbers at the Underground Lollapalooza after party in August. According to aficionados and trade pubs that track the hospitality sector, the Underground put the Third Coast into play. For corporate dates, too: Google, Motorola, Nike and Ernst & Young book the hideout.

The first is an incredulous “my-god-look-at-these-beautiful-people!”celeb factor that’s in full effect. Chicago Blackhawks come down; Justin Timberlake; Robin Thicke sans the Miley Cyrus twerking lesson; Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé Knowles’ former band-mate Michelle Williams (who put the club on the New York Post’s Page Six), Kanye West; Vince Vaughn; Fergie — they’ve all bathed in the Underground’s throbbing light show.

Music and DJs is the other magnet. They’ve got a test run option to download full-length mixes by Dante, Arkitech and others to feel how the floor spins. (This music buffet should not be skipped.)

As expected with any nightclub cultivating —  by accident or design — a glowing, exclusive, secretive vibe and reputation as, well, difficult to get in, there’s grousing: During a Halloween bash, a sparkly yet sad “Rainbow Brite” complained of being 86’d from entry…several times. And a sizable lot of Yelper’s are dismayed at being turned away. Like chemists working a lab experiment, doormen that remind one of special ops forces keep the precious women-to-men ratio in balance, which adds, curiously, to the scene’s street cred and allure.

This club brings a sexy sizzle to the night. Scout’s honor.

The Underground, 56 W. Illinois in River North. Reservations strongly encouraged.

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