Before Mark Steuer opened Carriage House and Funkenhausen, he was a struggling recent college grad who just moved to Chicago. He was making $10 an hour at some of his first restaurant gigs in the city when he was hit by a car while cycling on the street.
“I could always find ways to survive on what I made monetarily,” Steuer says. “But occasionally, you get hit by a taxi on your bicycle. Then it’s like, ‘So now what?’”
Steuer is attempting to answer this question with his latest project, called Common Decency, which will fill the former Lost Lake space in Logan Square with a planned New Year’s Eve opening.
The bar itself is slated to be a vibey, Miami Vice-inspired space complete with a DJ booth and a disco ball. The menu is also specially designed to be all-inclusive, with elevated bar bites that’ll be accommodating for most every diet including rice paper chicharron, yuca fries, ham and cheese croquettes, along with a smattering of southern food right in Steuer’s wheelhouse like cornbread, barbecue ribs, and shrimp and grits.
Steuer has assembled a team of industry veterans including partners Kelsey Kasper, Jason Turley, and Felipe Hernandez. He says Common Decency will support its workers, harkening back to his two decades in the restaurant industry plagued by low wages to lack of insurance, the conditions in which many have to work are inequitable and downright unhealthy. Steuer wants to build a bar that puts its workers first with a robust offering of progressive benefits including health insurance, vested profit sharing, and an emphasis on work-life balance.
“We have the ability to offer opportunities that we haven’t before,” Steuer says. “We’re just trying to make sure everyone feels like they’re taken care of and we’re making things right.”
“It’s reflective of our personal experience,” Hernandez says. “Having to put in 60 to 70 hours a week for years at a time and not seeing much back. A handshake just doesn’t really do it for me anymore. Let’s move from intangible to concrete. Let’s actually show people what we mean and what we’re talking about. I mean, it’s easy to say thank you. It’s harder to show it.”
The cocktail menu, for example, is organized by alcohol content, with non- and low-alcohol cocktails like a zero-proof negroni on top, followed by higher proof offerings with eyebrow-raising names like “Brazilian Butt Lift” and “Key Lime Pie Milk Punch.” This choice is intentional — and reflects the growing trend of sober curiosity in the bar scene that acknowledges not everyone is out to get drunk and wasted. Sometimes you just need to be able to hang out with good friends at a good spot to have a good time.
Common Decency aims to be a place where you can stop by, grab a few low-ABV cocktails (or something stronger if you feel like it), and dance under the shimmering lights of a disco ball with your friends all night. While you do, you can do so knowing that everyone from your bartender to the waiter who just served you is being paid well and taken care of — just like you are too.
“We’re doing what we think is the right thing and we wish people would have done it for us a long time ago,” Steuer says. “We can build a team where everyone is making enough money but also get things that you don’t usually get in this business: a sense of ownership, health insurance, and opportunity.”
Common Decency replaces Lost Lake, one of Chicago’s most popular bars, one that served tiki drinks, which would become a polarizing topic. The owners then softened after critiques about appropriation. They embraced a more generalized tropical drink genre. However, the owners at Land & Sea Dept. closed Lost Lake in January 2022. In March, Steuer teased he had projects in the works after he announced the closing of Funkenhausen, something that was referenced during an episode of Season 2 of The Bear.
Common Decency, 3154 W. Diversey Avenue, scheduled for December 31 opening.