Billy Dec’s Closes Underground Chicago as Nashville Location Readies to Open

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It’s the end of an era in River North as the Underground, where locals would text their friends late at night with photos of Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, or Katy Perry has closed. Opened in 2007, along with Rockit Bar & Grill, located around the corner on Hubbard Street, the two venues helped further co-owner Billy Dec as a household name in Chicago.

But after Dec split with partners, Brad Young and Arturo Gomez, Rockit closed in 2019 ending a 15-year run. That was before the pandemic, which hurt the world of music venues and bars with folks focusing on social distancing. Even in a post-vaccine world where Chicago’s tourists are returning, some businesses may have endured too much to survive. Last week, Dec announced the Underground, 56 W. Illinois Street, would close and convert into a private event space. That’s a move Chicago is bound to see more of, with the biggest example being in October 2023 when Boka Restaurant Group closed its French restaurant, the 10-month-old Le Select — led by acclaimed chef Daniel Rose — turning that River North space into the Wellsley.

The Underground, at 17 years old, has a more storied history versus Le Select. Dec, a Chicago native and graduate of the Latin School of Chicago, moved to Nashville where in 2018 he opened a location of his River North restaurant, Sunda. He also opened a Sunda in Tampa, Florida. Along those lines, he’s bringing the Underground brand to Tennessee, opening the Underground Cocktail Club at the end of the month or early June: “We are so humbled, honored, excited, and proud to be able to share a piece of our Chicago original in new markets to come,” a statement shared via social media from Dec reads. The project was announced in 2022.

At one point, Dec also said he wanted to open Rockit locations in other cities. While that didn’t happen, Dec did win local Emmys and was an Obama appointee in 2014 to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Dec hasn’t abandoned Chicago — he opened the fourth outpost of Sunda in February, inside a new Fulton Market — but the once mighty Rockit Ranch Productions has shrunk. In 2017, as he geared up to leave Chicago, he said there would be an increased focus on moneymakers. That happened as Otto Mezzo (formerly Ay Chiwowa), his venture with chef Kevin Hickey, closed along Chicago Avenue in River North. Hickey has since brought James Beard attention to his South Side restaurant, the Duck Inn.

But the two Sundas are all that remains of Dec’s once thriving empire in Chicago, one that included the Underground, and Le Passage, the latter of which closed in 2011. Gomez, who was roommates with Dec in a Wicker Park apartment, last year partnered with Nader, Fadi, and Rafid Hindo — the brothers behind Celeste. The quartet formed Celeste Group, which includes Whiskey Bar, Deco Supper Club, DISCO, and the rooftop Garden at 111. W. Hubbard Street). They’ll soon open Vela this summer at 352 W. Hubbard Street.

Dec declined further comment to Block Club Chicago, which first reported the news. The story discusses the changing landscape of Chicago’s social scene. Celebrities and social media influencers are looking for something different, or perhaps newer. River North lost Paris Club in 2016 but survived. Chicago still has plenty of places for that — especially during music festival season.

The Underground

56 W Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 943-7600 Visit Website

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