Bar Manages To Stay Hip By Continuously Raising Prices
Popular club Zella continues to draw the jet-set of Chicago's north side by raising drink prices well ahead of inflation and before the rest of the local scene can catch up, spawning comments from local food and drink critics calling the moves "innovative" and "modern".
By staying ahead of the competition, Zella has produced a dedicated patronage, and draws new customers from the crowd that wants to be the first to be seen spending $6 for an Old Style.
"Zella is the coolest bar in the city," said frequent customer Julie Kramer, resident of the chichi Lincoln Park neighborhood. "I wish they would do something about the same Dave Matthews cover band they've had every Thursday for, like, six years, but their prices are right, and it's the kind of crowd I need, because I won't waste my time with anyone who would buy me a Stoli and cranberry for less than $10."
Representatives for the bar say Zella succeeds, like many successful establishments, by targeting its own particular niche -- in this case, the group of people that insists upon being at the cutting edge and spending no less than a 600% mark-up on all beverages.
"We always strive to be out in front of the pack," said owner Mark Hampton, "and more than updating our décor, or offering a wide range of drinks, we continue to make our club the most exclusive and hard-to-afford club in the city by being the place to be seen dropping $100 on your tab without being even halfway toasted."
Hampton reminded reporters of the club's daily specials, which includes $10 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon on Thursday nights after 6PM, and $20 bottles of Charles Shaw on Wednesdays.
Customers have responded positively to the establishment's reluctance to make even superficial changes to its drink menu since opening in 1998. While most are happy to see that Stella Artois was recently added to the bar's fare, bar frequenters hope that any future changes will be limited to the price of the drinks they already serve.
"We got nervous when the rumor spread about Sierra Nevada being added to the taps," said longtime customer Dan Wilson of the Gold Coast. "This place is too hip to try to lure more people in by adding better quality beer to the selection, which is so 2005. As soon as a place starts serving all that hippie micro-brewery stuff, the $15 you pay for a dirty 'effin vodka martini devalues big time, and you might as well be drinking a Blue Moon in a sports bar."
"They've got such a cool thing going," Wilson added about his favorite bar.
Many regulars are beginning to worry, however, about the influx of residents into the surrounding neighborhood that refuse to pay the esoteric prices for drinks they can get for a quarter of the price elsewhere. Many residents of the old neighborhood have expressed concern that newcomers will draw business away from places like Zella that pander to a specific audience, in favor of brew pubs that serve a variety of beers, and at a cost affordable to the under-$75,000/year income bracket.
"Just last week I saw some hippie-looking guy walking down the street, and instead of pushing a baby carriage down the street, he was carrying a guitar," lamented Jen Borowski, resident of the neighborhood since 2002. "This neighborhood has changed so much since my husband and I moved in, and not for the better. We don't want a place where the bartender talks to us as if he were our equal, but sooner or later this place is going to get too full of hippies and rejects for a place like Zella to survive."
Many residents have petitioned the alderman to take measures to keep the flavor of the neighborhood alive by encouraging small business to move out, and to replace any business that has been in operation for over ten years with luxury condominiums. Until then, they vow to continue supporting their favorite watering hole the only way they know how.
"Maybe Zella losing a few of the pretenders isn't a bad thing," mused Borowski. "I mean, if you're really that uncomfortable about paying $10 for a mojito, I don't think I want to be sitting next to you, because you probably don't pay enough for your shampoo either, and now you have dandruff, and that's disgusting."