Given the Green Light

Chicago’s Lumen Continues Its Success After Revamping into an Eco-friendly Hotspot


When Lumen opened three years ago in Chicago’s old meatpacking district, lines of scenesters snaked out the door. That line can quickly dwindle, as it takes just mere months to go from a “see and be seen” spot to a forgotten bar of the past. But such was not the case with Lumen, which by March 2009 still enjoyed a strong core of regulars. But, anticipating the inevitable, co-owners Jason Freiman and Nick Podesta decided to reimage the venue last year and become part of the green movement taking off in Chicago.

As part of the redesign, “We took the bamboo tables we had and cut them and reconfigured them, creating a circular banquette in the middle of the room,” Freiman says. Foam from the old couches became the new banquette-seat padding, covered with recycled vinyl. “We spent more money than if we had just bought new furniture, but we didn’t want to waste material.”

The environmentally friendly reconfiguration added 15 percent more seating (now 175 seats), which helped increase bottle service sales. The project also raised the seating to a more “normal” height, according to Freiman. Previously, the low-slung, mod-like couches and tables, set just 2 feet above the ground, led to a lot of spilled drinks and people walking across tables.

Additionally, the DJ booth moved front and center at the club, which, though there is no dance floor, attracts “bopping-in-place” music lovers.

“What we had prior was a DJ room that was elevated off the main floor with a 10-foot-by-3-foot glass partition,” Freiman says. In fact, if you didn’t look up, you wouldn’t notice any live spinning. “Good DJs feed off the energy of the crowd, so it’s been a tremendous improvement to move him downstairs, not only for the DJ but also for our customers who want to be a part of the music.” As a result of the new setup, he adds, Lumen now attracts celebrity spinners and hosts weekly fashion shows, fundraisers, radio shows and other special events.

Other eco-friendly upgrades included expanding the existing lighting system and installing a low-ambient HVAC system that draws freezing-temperature outside air, readily available in Chicago.

“We always used super-efficient LED lighting, but we expanded it to areas that used regular bulbs,” Freiman says. The system is a series of mini bulbs, which cycle through disco colors and look like enlarged pixels of a high-def TV. Freiman says they use less energy to light and cool the place than a typical refrigerator. 

Sadly, Lumen’s green efforts have gone relatively unnoticed. While Duchamp, the group’s sister restaurant, draws a core group of farmers’-market-shopping foodies, those eco-conscious priorities don’t seem to be as top-of-mind for the Vodka-Tonic-drinking Lumen crowd, a mix of well-heeled 20- and 30-somethings looking for good house music and a place to “check people out.” Still, Lumen now serves catered food from Duchamp during private parties, which tend to attract restaurant regulars. Freiman and partners also will introduce a new concept this spring, a casual neighborhood restaurant with recycled material construction and a menu using local, seasonal foods by Duchamp and Zealous chef Michael Taus.

A lack of demand for sustainable spirits has shaped Lumen’s liquor choices. Artisanal and local varieties remain few and far between at Lumen, save for vodka and gin by North Shore, a small distiller just north of the city. Organic fruits for garnish and house-made mix-ins pick up some of that slack. “I don’t think we’ve ever had requests for organic spirits,” he says. “That trend is evolving but not in the nightclub scene just yet.”

But who knows how quickly the trend may pick up, especially given the green movement’s quick pace thus far in everything from spirits to design.

“When we built Lumen almost four years ago, the available green resources were not nearly as widely available as they are now,” Freiman says. “Now, anything’s possible.” NCB


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