You can’t step into Club Lucky – a storied spot at the corner of Wabansia Avenue and Honore Street in Bucktown – without feeling like you’ve tiptoed back in time. From its 1950s-vibe cocktail lounge and 1940s-like supper club in the dining room to the jukebox spinning retro sounds by Etta James and James Brown, this place has serious old-school cred. And its authentic southern Italian cuisine, legendary martinis and handcrafted cocktails (like the Six Corner Fizz and The Bogart) keep wooing guests back. So does the tranquil outdoor patio, delivery service and small-plate chef specials offered through November.
Club Lucky is the brainchild of Jim Higgins, who since 1990 has infused his bartending and hospitality experience into the place. But don’t let his last name fool you. Half Italian, Jim grew up in a traditional three-flat near Humboldt Park, raised on grandma Mary D’Amore’s Sicilian recipes. Many of which still live on through Club Lucky’s menu, which he proudly says “hasn’t changed in 24 years. We make all our sauces and stuffed pastas from scratch, butcher all our meats and make our desserts on-site.” Executive Chef Luis Robles also serves seasonal specials along with favorites like Eggplant Parmigiana, Double Cut Lamb Chops and Salmon Vesuvio.
Keeping all the plates spinning at Club Lucky is no small task, but Mr. Higgins balances it with a Mediterranean-inspired lifestyle where he takes alternate Saturdays and Sundays off. TCW sat down with him to find out what a free Saturday is like for this restaurateur.
7:45am When I’m off, I spend time with my wife [Sandra Marzullo Higgins] and family. She’s a flight attendant for American Airlines, traveling three days a week between Chicago and Rome. She’s my eyes and ears in the Italian culinary world. We’ll look at food pictures she took on that week’s trip, discuss the restaurants she visited…the culinary presentation and the experience. She’ll bring back menus and re-create some of the dishes. At breakfast, she’s big on cooking frittatas. She does a lot with scrambled eggs, putting in some prosciutto and veggies. She’ll make a salad like they do in Italy with Cara Cara and blood oranges, extra-virgin olive oil, oregano and sliced lemons. If the weather’s nice, we eat out back on the patio.
10:30am I go to my home office and communicate with the restaurant. Our prep kitchen starts at 5am to make pastas, so I discuss the day’s specials with the chefs.
12pm I drive from my home in Elmhurst to the restaurant and check if we have any private parties scheduled. I sell all the parties myself and give them a personal touch. I often stay a few hours. A lot of times my wife and sons will drive into the city and meet me. Although, Sandra usually only makes what I call ‘celebrity appearances’ at the restaurant when there’s a recipe she’s brought back from Rome.
2pm We have a cottage in New Buffalo, Michigan, so we’ll make the hour and 20 minute drive from Club Lucky and stop by the Green City Market. Sandra’s sister, Adriana Marzullo, has a pastry shop at the market called Zullo’s. She does a lot of zeppole (deep-fried Italian doughnuts) and we also pick up some of her par-cooked pizzas. Sandra then does her shopping at the market, and we take the food with us to New Buffalo.
3:30pm We like to get to Michigan in the later part of the afternoon so we can eventually watch the sun set. I love having a full house. My sons are 23 and 25, and once we’re in New Buffalo we’ll catch up. We have lunch on the beach, and have a few beers or some Prosecco.
7pm After the beach, we go back to the house and soak in the hot tub. We make the transition into ‘cocktail hour.’ I’m a whisky guy, so I might fix an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. My wife and the boys are more vodka drinkers. I’ll make some Aperol Spritzes and just chill out at the house. We make homemade Limoncello at Club Lucky, so I always have a bottle on hand.
8:30pm When we’re in New Buffalo as a family, we rarely go out for dinner. We always cook Italian – with my wife teaching the boys how to do it – and share stories about the restaurant. Sometimes the prep of the meal takes half an hour, sometimes two hours. After dinner, we just sit outside, relax and watch the stars.
11pm I’ll maybe go back to the hot tub…depending on how festive we’re getting.
The Italians have a saying – dolce far niente – which loosely translates to ‘the sweetness of doing nothing.’ For a man consumed with ensuring his guests enjoy their dining experience at Club Lucky, Mr. Higgins sure knows how to unwind on weekends.