Food & Drink

Best in Show

The Motor House’s new bar and cafe space is a ton of fun.

If only these walls could talk. With its panoramic views of the colorful Howard Street Bridge and the changing Station North landscape, the building at 120 West North Avenue has seen a lot through the years. Home to a Ford dealership in the early 20th century, the space subsequently housed Lombard Office Furniture. Then, when artists flocked to Station North, it was sold and some its sign letters were rearranged to spell Load of Fun. For nearly 10 years, the venue hosted arts groups like Single Carrot Theatre until the owner couldn’t afford to bring it up to code and closed it in 2012.

The space has now been rebranded as The Motor House, owned by nonprofit developer BARCO, and features 14 artist studios, space for seven nonprofits, a gallery, a performance venue and Showroom, a new café, bar, and performance space that’s open for every meal and mood of the day. The 2,800-square-foot space is industrial with a dining area and bar on one side and venue space separated by sliding wooden doors on the other. The floor-to-ceiling windows make bustling North Avenue feel like part of the space itself.

Bar manager Ben Yager, who cut his chops at Sugarvale in Mt. Vernon, has created a simple and straightforward cocktail menu. Numbered 1-6, the drinks are a playful combination of spirits with inviting descriptions. We were partial to the No. 2, a well-balanced mix of smoky Pelotón de la Muerte mezcal, spicy Goslings rum, and ancho chili, sweet tamarind, lime, and soda. Like the names, cocktails are understated, served in simple glassware with minimal garnish.

That simplicity is a nice counterbalance to the rest of the excitement at Showroom. The menu has myriad options, but focus on the bolsitas, or tacos in a bag, with ingredients such as sweet coconut braised pork shoulder and house-made plantain chips. Clearly, chef Daniel Horwitz wants to keep your taste buds on their toes.  

There’s dancing most nights at Showroom, too, and things really rev up on Thursday during Turntabliss Happy Hour, when DJs spin ’90s hip-hop and R&B. As guests shimmy their way back and forth between the dance floor and the bar, three letters from the original signage mounted overheard say it all: “F-U-N.”