Behind the Bar Bar Talk

How a Very Tiny Bar Can Have Really Large Ambitions

At The Ladies’ Room in Chicago, co-owner and chef Abraham Conlon is out to prove that smaller can actually be better when it comes to bars. “A tiny bar is more like hosting a cocktail party in your home than running a typical bar,” he says. “In a way, there’s nowhere to hide.”

The recently opened spot from the team behind Fat Rice, which Conlon operates with partner Adrienne Lo and beverage director Annie Beebe-Tron, has made waves for its diminutive size (it maxes out at 20 people), wildly creative cocktail list and Macau-inspired decor that’s equal parts tongue-in-cheek and sexy.

Below, Conlon outlines how intimacy is the name of the game at The Ladies’ Room and makes a compelling case for the beauty of the pint-size bar.

1. Focus on the Customer

“There’s a lot more intimacy in a small bar, both between guests and between guests and the staff. You can customize far more than you are often able to do in a larger, busier space. Emphasize this individual care. This kind of intimacy can also help make tricky logistics work. As a space that has differently sized tables, we occasionally have to move parties in order to make room for our next reservation. Having a built relationship with the customer smooths this transition and gives us an opportunity to delight them with a pour of something on the house as a thank-you. Everyone leaves happy.”

The Ladies’ Room.

2. Know Your Staff, Your Guest and Yourself

“A great floor server may not do as well in the intimacy of a tiny space. Know what kind of experience you care about and what kind of guest you hope to serve.”

3. Have a “Mothership”

“For us, The Ladies’ Room was a natural attachment to the original Fat Rice restaurant. Maintaining a financially viable inventory and, frankly, making a profitable bar can be extremely challenging. In order to actually sustain a staff and an inventory, tiny bars are often either extremely high-end or are connected symbiotically to a larger space that can help support them.”

4. Be Picky and Specific

“A tiny bar doesn’t have room for fluff, and a well-curated cocktail and spirits list gives you a chance to get the best possible products at any given price point. At The Ladies’ Room, this gives us an opportunity to make spirits in-house that wouldn’t be possible in a larger inventory-crushing space.”

5. Prioritize Hospitality and Staff Education

“The intimacy of the space creates a relationship between the staff and the guest, which opens up conversation from those who are curious. Be prepared for these conversations by having a passionate well-educated staff. The vibe of The Ladies’ Room is essential to encouraging this intimacy and to help the guests understand the inspiration behind it.