Stepping off busy Roosevelt Road under a sign marked “Welcome to Bedford Falls,” bar-goers are welcomed into a scene that is part movie set, part time travel as they transition past antique autos and a scene from the living room of 320 Sycamore on George and Mary’s wedding night, then finally through the door with a sign with the word “Nick’s” lit overhead.
At this Nick’s, Clarence could get his flaming rum punch (even if it isn’t cold enough outside) and mulled wine — “heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cloves.”
These libations, along with others, are all carefully researched and prepared by three bartenders from Berwyn who run The Roosevelt Room, which is putting on the pop-up “It’s a Wonderful Life at FitzGerald’s SideBar” on Wednesdays in December. The evening includes a showing of the movie and live jazz afterwards.
With cocktail choices like Mr. Martini, the Burt & Ernie, Pottersville Sour, Zuzu’s Petals, plus Clarence’s drinks of choice, the taste range strikes different notes, including floral/sweet, juicy, savory and bitter/sour, according to Isaac Lyons, who has tended bar for 12 years. He also looked to the past in creating the offerings.
“We took inspiration from drinks of the day,” Lyons said. “You could find these drinks in a bar in the ’30s and ’40s, with fresh ingredients, but with contemporary spirits — and some older, such as Laird’s Apple Jack, the oldest distilled spirit in America.”
All 80 slots across December’s four Wednesdays sold out in a couple of hours, and when FitzGerald’s Night Club announced it would open up to show only the movie on Dec. 27, 250 tickets went in minutes.
Christina Cheronis called FitzGerald’s for two hours straight to get a reservation for herself and friends Linda Hoeflinger and Katie Cunningham, all of Oak Park.
Both Cheronis and Hoeflinger, who have been friends since they were children growing up in Oak Park, have seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” more than 100 times each and the three friends say it’s their “favorite Christmas movie of all time.”
Lyons, Ryan Anderson and Marcus Reidy came up with the idea this time last year. They already thought the SideBar at FitzGerald’s, with its warm, nearly 100-year-old wood bar and trim throughout, looked like Nick’s, the bar from the movie (Martini’s before and after the dream sequence).
And then one cold December night, after the bar closed, they pulled down the screen permanently affixed to the wall behind the bar, and watched the film. The idea and their business, which also does private parties, were born.
To bring the concept to life, Reidy said the decorations have been a collaboration. Anderson brought in his grandfather’s Jim Beam Model T bottle to add to the vibe of the already historic-looking bar.
Oak Parker Don Carter lent his 1926 Model T and Jim Corcoran, also of Oak Park, has his 1946 Nash parked out front too. When entering the bar, a fireplace has old-fashioned holiday cards on the mantel. Order a drink and see the tip put into a gold-tone cash register and hear the bell ring, just like the one at Nick’s.
“The register is on loan from a guy in Norridge who repairs old registers,” Reidy said. “And the FitzGerald’s family has been wonderful in helping us host the Roosevelt Room with decorations and ideas.”
Bill FitzGerald, the owner, set up a chicken rotisserie “run” by an old record player. Travel posters hang above the outdoor fireplace. It may be reminiscent of the Baileys’ honeymoon night, but these chickens have a bigger purpose. There is a raffle, with proceeds going to Housing Forward, at the end of the night. One prize is the freshly roasted chickens.
Although the event is sold out, the SideBar’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” décor remains nightly through Dec. 27. Also available (while supplies last) is mulled wine. Clarence would be in heaven.
And don’t forget to tip and hear that cash register bell ring. Just think — somewhere an angel may be getting wings.